Lionel Weber fired a sizzling six-under 66 to set the early pace in the weather-hit Mountain Creek Open by Golf Citizen Monday.
The Frenchman, who is a brand ambassador of Thailand’s Banyan Golf Club and a regular on the Asian Tour, rattled up seven birdies against a lone bogey on the par-5 13th, to move two clear of Switzerland’s Dubai-based amateur Michael Harradine, South Africa’s Tyler Hogarty and England’s Jamie Elson.
England’s Luke Joy, a multiple winner on the MENA Tour, was six-under through 16 holes, but a bogey on the 17th and double on the 18th left him at three-under and in solo fifth, one ahead of three-man group which included Czech Republic’s Cyril Suk, Pattaraphol Khanthacha of Thailand and Blake Snyder of the United States.
On day when an afternoon thunderstorm forced suspension of play for 70 minutes, 16 players broke par at the Seve Ballesteros-designed course. Just two players were still out on the course when play was called off for the day.
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, who won last week’s MahaSamutr Masters — the opening event on MENA Tour’s Thailand swing — reeled off three birdies in his last four holes en route to a 71 that left him sharing ninth in an eight-man group which included amateur Rayhan Thomas.
In what is definitely a first for golf, the ShopRite LPGA Classic has announced it will give one sponsors’ exemption spot to one of four players who secures the highest number of votes in a Twitter poll.
The four players – identified by MVP Index, a sports social media tracking company founded by the father of Jordan Spieth, Shawn – are India’s Sharmila Nicollet, Scotland’s Carly Booth, American Blair O’Neal and Bolivian Susana Benavides. Nicollet, who played on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and now has a conditional status, has fallen off the Rolex Rankings, while Booth, a two-time winner on LET, is ranked 365th.
O’Neal, who played the Dubai Ladies Masters last year, is also not ranked but plays on the Symetra Tour, and Benavides is 1245th in the world. But what makes them attractive for the tournament is the kind of social media following they have.
Nicollet has 357,000 followers on Twitter, apparently second only to LPGA Tour star Paula Creamer (426,000) and way more than world No1 Lydia Ko (57,600), and over 109,000 on Instagram.
Booth has 35,600 on Twitter and 62,500 on Instagram. O’Neal, a Golf Channel host and winner of the ‘Big Break’ reality show, has 77,500 Twitter followers and 187,000 on Instagram. Benavides has only 7,200 on Twitter and 20,900 on Instagram.
The move has been met with plenty of enthusiasm, as well as scorn. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has endorsed Booth (33 per cent), and she has made a flying start in the poll that started a couple of days ago and is open until Sunday night.
Nicollet (22 per cent) has received support from Indian cricket star Yuvraj Singh and renowned commentator Harsha Bhogle, and is fast making ground. But leading right now with 38 per cent votes is O’Neal, a local favourite.
There are others who fail to see why much more deserving and accomplished candidates should be denied a chance. My take on the issue is that as long as the spot is coming out of the sponsor’s quota, the serious golf fans should not have any grouse.
They are the ones who are paying the big bucks to make a tournament happen, and they are free to use any kind of promotion to get a better return on their investment.
And given the increasing popularity of social media, this is one way of creating some buzz around the tournament, and also, hopefully get a few more millennials involved.
ANOTHER GOOD MOVE
Just a few days after limiting the use of video evidence in imposing penalty on players, the golf’s governing bodies have announced that they will soon be cracking down on the detailed yardage books, the modern day version of which maps the entire green to its minutest details.
In a statement issued a couple of days ago, the governing bodies said they will be reviewing such materials and decide whether any action needs to be taken.
The statement read: “A player’s ability to read greens is an essential part of the skill of putting. Rule 14-3 limits the use of equipment and devices that might assist a player in their play, based on the principle that golf is a challenging game in which success should depend on the judgement, skills and abilities of the player. “We are concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round” continued the statement. “We are reviewing the use of these materials to assess whether any actions need to be taken to protect this important part of the game. We expect to address this matter further in the coming months.”
Several players have been critical of the detailed yardage books, which are designed to give the golfers an exact idea of distance from various parts of the golf course.
Ian Poulter has been most vocal on the issue, his main point of contention being that so much time was being spent reading the books, it was slowing down the pace of play.
However, the previous announcements on the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf also mentioned the possibility of legalising Distance Measuring Devices, like Bushnell, on the Tours. If they are allowed starting 2019, it will cut down on the time taken between shots.
There are still many golfers and caddies who pace the distance to get an accurate yardage.
The younger of the Koepka brothers, Chase does not have a status on the PGA Tour, but by finishing inside the top-10 with big bro Brooks in the Zurich Classic, he gets into this week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
It was a smart move by the Koepkas and the 59 FedEx Cup points earned could help him skip the Qualifying School and qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals.
Sometimes, golf just does not matter. The two-time PGA Tour winner pulled out of the Zurich Classic last week after discovering that his 13-year-old son, Jacob, has a brain tumour.
The Australian said he has no timeframe for his return to the golf course. All we can say is that our prayers are with Jacob and the family and we hope he gets well soon.
WHAT’S IN THE BAG
Winner, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees)
3 Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees)
Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-9)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM6 (46-, 52-, 56- and 60-degres)
Putter: Scotty Cameron 009M Prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
THIS WEEK’S EVENTS
Wells Fargo Championship Course: Eagle Point Golf Club Wilmington, North Carolina
Purse: $7.5 million
Defending champ: James Hahn
Centurion Golf Club
St Albans, England
Purse: £1 million
Defending champ: New event
Rising teen-star Victoria Tip-Aucha will create history when she tees it up at the MahaSamutr Masters, thus becoming the first woman golfer to play on the MENA Tour.
Born and brought up in the United States, the 15-year-old Victoria, of Thai heritage, has her game trending in the right direction following a string of firsts in the junior golf circuits both in the US and Thailand that has propelled her to be called a future champion by critics.
Victoria’s achievements on the other side of the Atlantic include victories at the 47th VSGA (Virginia State Golf Association) Championship and the Junior All-Star at Chantilly National, both in 2016.
Victoria remains unruffled at all the hype and the prospect of going up against stronger players under pressure when the tournament starts at MahaSamutr Country Club in Hua Hin from Tuesday.
“This is a new challenge for me and I love challenges because they offer me an opportunity to grow in some way and stretch my creative muscles. Really looking forward to it,” said the in-form Victoria, who has already won five times on the Thailand girls golf circuit this year, including wins at the International School Junior Golf Tournament and ASB Eagle Cup.
“I’m grateful to MahaSamutr Country Club for inviting me to compete in this year’s tournament. I truly value their gesture. I’m not playing to prove anything, but just loved the idea of playing in a men’s event. Simple as that.
“I hope the experience of playing alongside MENA Tour players will stand me good stead and that will be the biggest takeaway from the tournament.
“Obviously, my immediate goal is to post a strong finish, but I can’t really control all of it. What I can control is how hard I try and what I can do. What I can do is to have fun out there and just play the best I can.”
There is no rule against women playing in men’s tour events, but only a few, including Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson have attempted the feat since Babe Didrikson Zaharaias, the first woman to play against men in a PGA Tour event in 1938.
“We are really delighted to have Victoria join our tournament. She is charismatic, she is skillful and her presence will keep the atmosphere buzzing,” said Veeranat Limprasutr, Head of Business Development and Director of Operations at MahaSamutr Country Club in Hua Hin.
“Golf is a game you play against yourself, so it’s going to be a Victoria vs Victoria show in her quest to improve and test her abilities. If you look at her achievements, it’s so impressive. Our invitation is a step in the process of making her a better player.”
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Tour, commented: “It’s indeed ground-breaking for the Tour as Victoria is making her first foray into a men’s event. She is a special talent, one who combines feminine grace with power and technique, making her a suitable candidate for a strong ambassador for the future of women’s golf.
“I wish her the very best and, like every one, we will be watching her progress during the tournament with keen interest. We just want her to play well and enjoy every moment.”
A guaranteed spot on the PGA Tour’s 2018 DEAN & DELUCA Invitational (for the MENA Tour champion), multiple European Tour starts, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Hassan II Trophy, Maybank Championship Malaysia, and the KLM Open, are just some of the added incentives that await MENA Tour members, in addition to playing privileges on the Sunshine Tour, and exemptions into the Final Stage of the Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour Q-Schools.