Safeway Classic Presented by Coca Cola:
Day Three Fan Diary - August 22, 2010
Hello on Sunday from Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, home of the 2010 Safeway Classic Presented by Coca Cola. As the TV watchers and the fans who follow LPGA closely knew, today's drama was the contest between Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr, not just for the tournament, but for the number one Rolex Ranking. The news parts of the LPGA web site cover that aspect of the story especially well, so I won't rehash it here. But at course level things got exciting as Ai hung steadfastly to her lead with a set of solid pars, while Cristie has a more up and down day that got her close--within a shot--but ultimately left her two behind Ai and tied for second. And I honestly think it was closer than it looked. Cristie was taking risks to catch up, and Ai faced some long puts and some tough up and downs to hang on to first. It was exciting, especially since the top finishers were packed into the last pairs of players where we could keep an eye on them.
A Glimpse of the Future
But before the battle royal for first shaped up we had time for some other firist class spectator activities. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon following a dynamic pair of young players - Vicky Hurst and Hee Young Park. Both have taken interesting paths to the tour - Vicky having come through the Duramed FUTURES Tour program, and Hee Young through the Asian women's golf program. Both are excellent golfers and fun to watch.
We guessed that something might happen because the two had played well on Saturday. Vicky has a bogey free round yesterday, and Hee Young had eagled the difficult 9th hole on their way to -2 scores. Today the two stood at -5 coming off the 8th hole. Unfortunately Vicky ran into trouble with double bogies on both the 11th and 12th holes. I'm sure she was disappointed with her finish, but she still showed why she's out there. Driving isn't everything, but the 305 yard monster she pounded on 18 showed everybody what a talented ball striker she is. Where does she get that power? Hee Young, whose nickname is apparently "Rocket", did somewhat better, finishing in the top ten. She impressed with her ball placement and iron play. And she isn't a slouch with the long clubs either. She and Vicky made a great pair to watch, and I'm sure we will be seeing much more of both of them in the future.
Orenery Oregon Weather
The weatherman was almost right. Unfortunately the 20% chance of rain showed up as two or three sudden blasts of light drizzle around noon. But by the end of the afternoon there wasn't a clound to be seen. Most folks didn't seem to mind even though they weren't prepared - it hasn't rained here in a month and a half. The ground was so dry that on the unwatered part I was able to sit down on the ground without getting wet only a half hour or so after the last rain. But next year I bring an umbrella, no matter what the forecast says.
Why So Tough A Course?
I'm really impressed with Pumpkin Ridge as a course, and I've been wondering why it plays so tough for some, while others seem to have little problem pulling in pars. Yesterday I mentioned the small greens and the undulating landscape as major factors. But early in the day I ran into the resident pro and asked him why the course played so tough. His answer - the rough. Many of the holes have nice conventional spaces with wide first and second cuts of rough. But many holes have a narrow fringe of rough immediately followed by either dense Oregon woods or prairie. This is thick, Midwest and west style prairie too. And it eats golf balls. Folks from the east have probably never seen thick grass and flowers growing six feet tall and so dense it could be woven into doormats. That's what greets the player who strays too far left or right. Oh. And then there is the Ghost Creek itself. More than one player fell afoul of it today. I'll just have to come back next year to watch the drama continue.
See you next time.
Safeway Classic Fan Diary - Day Two - August 21, 2010
Hi again. It's another terrific day in Oregon at the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola. It's been a great tournament so far on a beautiful and challenging golf course - Pumpkin Ridge - Ghost Creek. There's a lot to share and it has all been fun.
Up At Dawn
We saw in the pairings on the web last night that last year's champion from this tournament was first off a little before 7:30 a.m. And we were awake early so we headed out to North Plains while most of Portland was still sleeping in or looking for their first cup of coffee. And there we were - the two of us making up 1/3 of the gallery along with two deer and three rabbits starting out on the long stretch of holes 2, 3, and 4 of the front nine. And yes - there really were deer on the 4th fairway, up close to the green.
It was a perfect setting. Cool - probably in the mid-50's--sunny for a while, and absolutely still. We saw or heard close to a dozen different kinds of birds among all the different wildlife that was still active at that time of the morning.
Oh… and the golf was fantastic as well. The threesome we followed for the front nine were middle of the pack, and there wasn't much drama. Still, seeing the women make terrific shots and score well on this challenging course is a genuine pleasure. As the LPGA keeps trying to tell us, these women can really play the game. And shortly after the turn we kept hearing cheering from the little gallery following the group behind us - the second threesome out. The reason for the commotion was that Ji Young Oh was having a career day. Fearless putting and good all around play got her to 9 under for the day at one point - a course record pace. But unfortunately a wayward drive on 18 snatched the course record away from her. She finished 8 under for the day and 6 under for the tournament. And it was great fun to ride along with the little bandwagon of cheering supporters who followed her through the back nine. It was certainly a spectacular display of putting.
Since we had walked the course and it wasn't even one o'clock yet, we had lunch and then settled down to a more leisurely spectator style. I became a bleacher bum - first watching the afternoon crew tee off on 10, and then moving over to watch groups finish on 18. All in all one of the best days of LPGA watching I've had in the years I've been going to tournaments.
Sitting at the 18th hole and listening to other spectators and watching the play and the scoreboard gave me a chance to think about why this course is such a toughie. It's a Robert Cupp course, now about 16 years old. And it's widely regarded as one of Cupp's finest. But it seemed odd that many LPGA champions were having a tough go at it, while others, like Ai Miyazato, were tearing it up. There was definitely movement on moving day, but with a few exceptions, like J.Y.Oh, most folks who did well yesterday continued to do well today, while folks who struggled yesterday really struggled today. The chatter from the fans in the stands mentioned a couple of things about the course. First off, other than the tee boxes there isn't a flat spot on the entire course. The thing twists and turns and slopes and dips and doesn't provide a safe landing place anywhere. Ten feet to the right of your landing spot and your ball slides off the fairway into a hazard. Ten feet the other way and you are in a trap. And that's true hole after hole. Second, the greens follow the same rule (slope every which way) and are small and fast to boot. Many greens are small with narrow entry throats. Many are split level affairs giving grief to anybody who puts their ball on the wrong level. And then there are the two lakes. Both the 9th and 18th greens are protected by large lakes. Even the good players were pushing the ball away from the water, and were ending up with long putts or chips and often bogies or worse.
The 9th hole is particularly interesting and I think it shows something about how the LPGA works with a course. On the scorecard in the pro shop the 9th is listed as a par 4. But from the black tees - way back, the 9th plays as a par 5 for the women, making the course a par 72 instead of 71. But wait, there's more. As a par 5 the 9th gives players tougher hitting choices. Suddenly the wetlands on the left become a more important hazard. And the rough and the prairie grass on the right are always a threat. So it wasn't surprising. Looking at the scoreboard, to see that many of the low scorers bogied the 9th hole. The LPGA really toughened it up.
But is it a fair test of golf? You bet. But it helps to like roller coasters and to be familiar with this strange grass that's only used in the great northwest.
I can't leave without some fashion news. On their bio pages a remarkable number of LPGA pros say that are interested in fashion or that if they weren't playing golf they would be trying to find a career in the fashion industry. Well here's the news from the course.
The in color is yellow: yellow pants, yellow jackets, yellow hats, yellow golf bags, yellow golf balls. It's yellow this season. And it looks good. I like it because you can see it a long way off. We were sitting above and behind the 18th green, and someone says that so-and-so is putting on the 15th. How do they know? Oh, she's the one in the yellow pants.
And what's the key accessory? I didn't see any yellow belts, but there were sure a lot of shiny ones. Black, white, be-jeweled, patent leather, and color coordinated with tops and shoes--they were amazing. Thank goodness the sponsors haven't gotten into the belt business yet. But I won't be surprised if they do.
Most important of all, we found the blackberries. I can tell you where they are, because there are so many that I'm sure there will be plenty left Sunday. They are along the dirt road to the left of the 9th tee. And there is nothing quite as good as an Oregon blackberry.
Fan Diary - Safeway Classic - August 20, 2010
Hello from sunny North Plains, Oregon and the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola LPGA tournament. And Wow! It was a perfect day for golf. The thermometer cooperated on this lovely, sunny day giving the women what might be the best weather they have seen since February in Hawaii. I'm Richard and I'm here from Seattle with my son Chris on our annual pilgrimage to Portland to watch the women play. We've already run into several other folks from Seattle and see lots of Washington license plates in the parking lot, so we know the tour draws from some distance away.
This is the second year that the Safeway tournament has been at Pumpkin Ridge's Ghost Creek course. We're about twenty miles west of downtown Portland on the rolling forest and farm land of this great plateau between the Willamette River and the Oregon coast. It's a terrific course, routinely rated as one of the half dozen best in a state that has lots of really good courses. More about the course in a bit, but the focus should be on the terrific play.
With the weather cooperating and the course in fantastic shape, the scores varied widely--all the way from a remarkable 66 by Ai Miyazato to some less remarkable scores in the high 80's. Credit the LPGA's tournament folks with getting the scores spread out by careful selection of tee boxes and some really aggressive pin placement. I don't know if it showed up on TV, but the pins were in really nasty spots on many holes - down front, right behind a bunker or on a pretty steep slope with little working room if your shot went long.
Our Fan Fun Day
I love the Safeway because of the party atmosphere. The gallery seemed larger than at this tournament in previous years. But the course and the facilities handled the crowd well. I always felt I could get where I could see the play well, and there were no significant lines for anything. Well... Maybe there was a line for the free P F Chang's Chinese food, but not for the usual things. And of course there is always a line at the autograph tent.
The autograph hounds must have had a field day, because with important end-of-year standings still being contested, the whole top echelon of LPGA players was in town. Every threesome seemed to have a name player, and many had more than one.
Parking is much better here than it was at the old Columbia CC tournament site. And after a short walk we felt right at home again in the Safeway food court tent. For those of you who haven't made it to the Safeway classic before, this food tent is quite remarkable. Walk all the way around inside and you can collect a gourmet lunch one tasty morsel at a time. There's everything from salad to steak to ice cream. Yum. And from there it's just a few steps to the two starting tees.
Tournament Watching Strategy
Before heading out to trail a group or to pick a spot to watch the players move past, I like to get local information. One of my first stops is usually at the pro shop to talk with the regular shop staff - the guys who really know the course and the layout. The big tip on this trip: The 17th hold can be a big swing hole with lots of bogies and birdies. It's also got an elevated cart path along it so it's very fan friendly.
That was a great tip. We watched several threesomes come through, and watched people deal with the narrow fairway and the narrow throat to the green. I mean, that hole is really narrow. One of the biggest challenges of the hole is the combination of steep green slope back to front combined with the nasty rough that forms a collar trimming the back of the green. Those who went long generally made bogey, no matter how good their first shot was.
On the 17th we also found out why the course is called Ghost Creek. The little creek that crisscrosses the course is almost invisible to the players from the tee boxes. That's true not only on the 17th, but on most of the holes where the water comes into play. To avoid the creek many players lay up and then shoot a conservative second shot. But not most of the women we saw. They tried to place the first shot on the lip of the creek to the left (many did), and then put the second shot on the tiny green. It's not the signature hole of the course, but it's tricky in its own right.
One of the things that helped me enjoy the tournament was the large number of spectators who knew and had played the course. The Ghost Creek 18 is semi-private, so anybody can get on and have at the challenging layout. Its sister course, Witch Hollow, is private. But Ghost Creek is rated as well or nearly as well as Witch Hollow. And Ghost Creek is one of the top courses in the west that weekend golfers like me can actually go out and play. So it was fun to hear the chatter from the fans. "She can hit from that hazard--or at least I did last month when I was in there," said one fan about Paula Creamer's tee shot that drifted right and across the red line into the, you guessed it, Ghost Creek bank. "Did you par it?" shot back another fan? "Of course not," said the amateur player. Well… Neither did Paula.
But Paula did come up with my shot of the day. The best shot I saw on Friday was Paula's tee shot on the Par 3 16th, which she stuck about a foot from the hole for a tap-in birdie.
I can't wait for tomorrow. Oh… If you are coming, bring your sun tan lotion. It's bright out there.