Dustin Johnson, Shanshan “Jenny” Feng, Tom Lehman: Winners

With the U.S. Open coming up next week, the biggest story out of this weekend’s golf would have to be Dustin Johnson winning the FedEx St. Jude Classic at the TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.

This was noteworthy because it was only his second week back after being out for eleven weeks with a pulled muscle in his back (which he got while moving a jet ski). Of those eleven weeks, he didn’t touch a club for six of them:

I rested it, did a lot of physical therapy on it, and, you know, “stim” and ice and manual work.  Everything’s good, feeling healthy and great.  Glad to be back out here.

His first tournament back was last week’s Memorial in Columbus, Ohio, where he finished with a very respectable T19:

I didn’t really know what to expect going into Memorial, my first week back in a long time. Didn’t know what to expect there.  I played really well.  Even on Saturday and Sunday I played well.  I just didn’t finish my rounds off well.  I played the last three holes 3-over on Saturday and Sunday.  So, that hurt a lot.

So, but it gave me confidence coming in this week because I was hitting some good shots, I was chipping and putting it pretty well.  You know, I knew just out here I just needed to get the ball in the fairway and then — because I was swinging my irons well — I was going to have a lot of looks at birdies.

Coming into this week, I was really just, you know, trying to put myself in position to have a chance to win on Sunday, which I did.

In the first round he managed a “feeling-it-out” round with three birdies and three bogeys: even par. After that he only had four bogeys in the final three rounds offset by eleven birdies and an eagle for dramatic one-shot victory. It was dramatic because the last two birdies came on 16 and 17 on Sunday and that was what it took:

You know, I come out every week and I try to just put myself in a position to have a chance to win on Sunday, and I did that this week.

I played well yesterday, and then obviously I played really well today.  Shot my best score of the week today on Sunday.  If you do that, usually you’re going to play well.  You’re going to finish up at the top of the leaderboard.

So even though it’s long odds to go on to victory in the U.S. Open after winning the tournament the week before, Johnson will surely take the victory, his renewed confidence, his fresh body and his chances next week. Who wouldn’t?

The other interesting story coming out of Memphis is Rory McIlroy. After missing the cut at The Players and three weeks later, The Memorial, he righted the ship with a T7. That would have been higher had he not pressed on 18 trying to post a score and made a double bogey.

As to his U.S. Open chances, it will be his third tournament in a row and that frequently is a nice time frame in which to roll into a victory. He looked really good Sunday.

LPGA Tour

The second biggest story this week was the first person from mainland China (that is to say, not Taiwan), Shanshan “Jenny” Feng, winning not only her first LPGA tournament, but her first major, the Wegmans LPGA Championship in Pittsford, New York, just outside of Rochester.

Once this longtime tournament was turned into a major, they set the golf course up to be worthy of a major and boy was it. The fairways were narrowed, the rough was cultivated into a bumper crop and the greens were pure. Karrie Webb began missing fairways on the closing holes and the most memorable images from that stretch were of her trying to hit choked down rescue clubs from 150 yards to get the ball back in play.

Feng only got it to 6-under, but that was good enough for a two-stroke win. And this five-year member of the LPGA Tour had some of the Tour’s best players breathing down her neck all afternoon:

  • T2 – Stacy Lewis, Suzann Pettersen, Mika Miyazato
  • T6 – Ai Miyazato, Karrie Webb and breakout dark horse, Gerina Piller
  • T9 – Paula Creamer and U.S. Open winner, Inbee Park
  • T12 – Sandra Gal and Christie Kerr

All of this is quite remarkable because of what she had to do to learn the game as a young girl:

I started when I was 10 and at that time all of the schools, they weren’t supporting us to practice golf. So I was taking lessons like it was middle school. It was like from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. was the starting time. So every day after 5 p.m. and my parents, one of them would come and pick me up, we go to a range close by and hit maybe like 200 balls in like two hours. That’s all I have, two hours every day. That’s on the weekdays. On weekends I try to play a round if I can.

She was lucky enough to draw the attention of Gary Gilchrist, Yani Tseng’s American coach, through her manager. She attended Gilchrist’s live-in academic and golf training academy in 2007 and got through Q-School that same year.

And a sweet story in her name “Jenny.” When she was taking English immersion lessons in China, they all had to choose Western names. Her teacher gave her Jenny and, “I never changed it.” And she came out of the process speaking perfect, idiomatic English. As she demonstrated in answer to a question about whether the Chinese players would ever be as successful as the Koreans have been:

I would say yes. I think, you know all of the Asians are good. That’s what my parents told me. All of the Asians are good at controlling small things. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I will say if Koreans can, Chinese can, and golf in China is really growing up and getting more popular. I believe in the future China will be one of the strongest countries on golf.

When you have little girls devoted to hitting 200 balls a night after school, it’s little wonder.

Champions Tour

Tom Lehman won the Regions Tradition, the major that began its life at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. After a few years in the Pacific Northwest, it is now at Shoal Creek in Shoal Creek, Alabama, a southeastern suburb of Birmingham.

Lehman shot back-to-back 69s and back-to-back 68s to get to 14-under and beat Bernhard Langer by two shots. In doing so, he managed to rack up his sixth Champions Tour win and defend his title from last year’s Tradition. And his win was all the more impressive because of the conditions and what he had to do to overcome them:

I don’t mind any really condition other than rain. I don’t like playing in the rain, I never have. I’m not sure why it is. To me it kind of makes me really uncomfortable. I feel like I lose rhythm of my swing. I don’t know, I can’t explain how playing in the rain throws me off. Maybe it’s the timing with the caddie and the umbrella and all that kind of stuff, I don’t know.

Today was a real test of perseverance just trying to hit the ball forward, don’t try to bite off too much, don’t get too aggressive, just play smart shots, shots that I know I can hit and make a par, make another par, maybe sneak a birdie in here and there. That was kind of the approach that I took with the rain.

But even as he walked up onto the 18th green to begin sizing up his 55-foot putt, he shared the kinds of thoughts that run through the minds of even a great player like him and how he handles them:

There’s always a moment of doubt that kind of creeps in. The putt that I had was a long putt and having to go across the slope, so if you hit the putt a little bit too weak or you shove it or something, there’s an outside chance that you could hit it down in the (inaudible.) Those are the crazy things that your mind plays games with you about how can I possibly four-putt this.

Then you have to pull it back and say I’m not going to four-putt, it’s just a 55-foot putt, roll it up there close, two-putt and get out of here with a two-shot win. To me, that’s really the essence of golf is dealing with what’s right in front of you, knowing that you can do it, hit this shot, make this putt, hit this tee shot, the shot right in front of you I’ve done before, I can do it again, not think about the results of the what-ifs.

The great players are the ones who have enough experience to notice that these thoughts are going on in their minds, have developed an approach that helps them deal with them and then are generous enough to help the rest of us by sharing it all.

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