Judy Rankin: Hall of Fame perspective

World Golf Hall of Famer Judy Rankin offers some of the best and most respected on-course analysis in the game. Here she is on the set with Golf Channel play-by-play host Terry Gannon. Photo courtesy Golf Channe

World Golf Hall of Famer Judy Rankin offers some of the most respected on-course analysis in the game. Here she is on the set with Golf Channel host Terry Gannon.
Photo courtesy Golf Channel

As seen in the May issue of  Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine.

by Bart Potter

JUDY RANKIN WAS YOUNG, a new 17-year-old pro, when the LPGA was young itself. Fifty-four years on, Rankin and the women’s professional golf tour have aged well.

Rankin sees today’s matured LPGA, its global scope and its deep well of young (and older) talent, with the eye of a seasoned television broadcaster and the perspective of a Hall of Fame athlete.

What will the Northwest behold, she was asked, when the world’s best women take over Sahalee Country Club next month for the second major of the women’s season? How will we find the women’s game?

“It’s as healthy,” Rankin says, “as it’s been in the last 15-20 years.”

Rankin, who won 26 LPGA events before her retirement as an active player in 1983, will be on the Golf Channel’s on-course broadcast team for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship June 9-12 at Sahalee in Sammamish, Wash.

Rankin expects all of the top 50 women pros to be in the field for the Women’s PGA – “no one will pass on it that can possibly play,” she says. South Korean Inbee Park will be seeking a fourth consecutive Women’s PGA title.

Extreme youth does not rule across the board in the LPGA – Park, World No. 2, is 27; Stacy Lewis, ranked No. 4, is 31; and Cristie Kerr, twice a tournament winner in 2015 and a former champion (2010) of the Women’s PGA, is 38. Yet Rankin calls “unprecedented” the talent and golf maturity of the youngest players in the modern game.

Canadian Brooke M. Henderson, World No. 7, was 17 (now 18) when she won in the Northwest last summer at the Cambia Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.

Lexi Thompson, ranked No. 3 in the world, owns a raft of “youngest” distinctions (such as qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open at 12); she was 15 when she turned pro and is now just 21.

“The teenagers don’t come out on the tour anymore to learn how to ‘sophisticate’ their game,” Rankin says. “It’s already there. It’s fun to see these young girls that are so good, and so competitively savvy.”

World No. 1 Lydia Ko, expected to be in the field at Sahalee, recently turned 19.

“Lydia Ko is a great example of somebody who is completely together, and capable of doing so many things, and when you get her in just the right setting she’s still an 18-year old kid,” Rankin says. “That’s kind of refreshing, and nice to see.”

Judy Torluemke was “a little bit of a scared kid,” out of St. Louis, Mo., when she joined the tour in 1962 after earning low amateur honors at the U.S. Women’s Open the year before.

“I was probably out there a little earlier than I should have been,” she says today. “For all practical purposes, in the professional world, I was still learning to play. I was a little bit of a phenom, but that doesn’t necessarily make you ready to get thrown in and try to play Mickey Wright.”

After two years, however, she was earning a living. By 1968, she faced an issue not known to male touring pros: motherhood. She was at home in Midland, Texas (where she lives today), with her husband, Walter “Yippy” Rankin, and an infant son, Walter Jr., known as Tuey, when the LPGA came to Midland for a tournament.

“When I got married and then found myself going to have my son, I never anticipated playing again,” she says. But she entered that Midland tournament, earned fourth place and a pretty decent paycheck, and remembers looking at Yippy and saying, “We can do this, for a while, until Tuey’s in school.”

Later that year,she won her first tournament, the Corpus Christi Civitan Open. From then on, after a winless 1969, she won at least one tournament every year until 1979, when she won her last tournament, the WUI Classic in Long Island, N.Y.

Chronic back issues limited the number of tournaments Rankin could play, and hastened her retirement from the game. But Rankin was LPGA player of the year in 1976, when she won six events, and again in 1977, when she won three times. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.

Being a teenager on tour in 1962 is a world removed from today’s environment for young players, but Rankin sees one through line to today’s game of golf: a youthful outlook, at any age.

“Once again, there’s that great age difference, part of what makes golf so much fun to watch,” she says. “The young people tend to have an old head, like Jordan Spieth, and the old people tend to have the enthusiasm of a young person, like Phil Mickelson.”

Rankin, 71, says, “Something about the people in sport, the people around sport, that have a youthful exuberance, still have a little boy or little girl in them; not a bad crazy teenager, but that childlike mentality that makes every day a new day.”

Rankin has never been to Sahalee, but she’s seen it on TV and knows it by reputation.

“It has that great Pacific Northwest look,” she says. “I know from TV it’s beautiful, very well thought of, and I think it’s a tremendous thing for the Women’s PGA to go there.”

If accuracy off the tee “is really a huge part of the deal, Lydia Ko is a wonderfully straight driver, plenty long, but wonderfully straight.

“Lexi Thompson is longer than long, and she’s kind of proven in the last year or so to be a pretty straight driver, given her length.”

But accuracy alone might not get it done, according to Rankin.

“Sometimes getting it out there a long ways just pays off,” she says

“If the women’s tour is shortchanged on anything, it’s driving of the golf ball. They don’t get enough credit for what really great drivers of the golf ball they are, the combination of length and accuracy.”

In short, to this longtime player and professional observer, these women – young and older – are good.

“That’s why I always urge people to just come see the women in person, one time,” Rankin says. “I think it will be a revelation to a lot of people, the level at which they play.”

Global Golf Calendar: Full Monty edition

Colin Montgomerie — who knew? — has won the last two Senior PGA Championships. He’s in the field this weekend at Harbor Shores in Michigan to aim at a three-peat. Montgomerie is only 52. Really? The media guide says he’s 6-1, 210 pounds — they do have good PR on the Champions tour.

Monty is supposed to be a prickly guy. That’s okay — I get it. Seems like, after it all, he’d be fun to hang around with over an 18-year-old Macallan.

Colin Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie

This week in golf

NCAA Div. I Golf Championships — Men
May 27 – June 1, Eugene Country Club, Eugene, Ore.

PGA Tour Champions
May 26-29: Senior PGA Championship, The Golf Club at Harbor Shores, Benton Harbor, Mich.

LPGA
May 26-29: LPGA Volvik Classic, Travis Pointe Country Club, Ann Arbor, Mich.

PGA Tour
May 26-29: Dean & DeLuca Invitational, Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas

Out there

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
June 9-12, Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish, Wash.

USGA
June 16-19: U.S. Open, Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.
July 7-10: U.S. Women’s Open, CordeValle, San Martin, Calif.

Don Whitt: Tied with Nyquist for Kentucky Derby wins

The second leg of racing’s Triple Crown gives entrée to bring up the only golf tournament ever named for the Triple Crown’s first leg. According to the crack Grey Goatee Research Team, there really was a Kentucky Derby Open on the PGA Tour, contested for three years in the late 1950s at Seneca Golf Course in Louisville. It was played in its brief life in late May or early June, maybe so it wouldn’t have to compete with the world’s most famous horse race early in May.

Billy Casper won the first Kentucky Derby Open in 1957, Gary Player won in 1958, and Don Whitt claimed the third and last title in 1959.

As far as the crack Grey Goatee Research Team can uncover, there’s never been a golf tournament named for the Preakness Stakes. Fortunately, we have the real thing, the 141st running, this Saturday at Pimlico. Hot tip: Bet on Collected, the Baffert horse, listed at 10-1 as of Wednesday.

Nyquist, the Derby winner, is gonna lose. Yeah, you read it right, and you read it right here.

Update, May 21: Nyquist is a loser … you read it here nowhere near first.

This damn game: Two shadows over

Death too much
Darkness lasting late
Dampness in the ground and bones
Worked on me hard this spring.

The sun rose early enough this morning for a front-nine Dawn Patrol, the first of the year, at the Golf Course in the Valley of the Shadow of the Brewery.

It’s the water, here, and it came this morning from a thick dew rather than a tall water table. Tumwater National Golf and Polo won’t ever be the driest golf course in the known universe, but nothing plugged, this morning, which could mean I hit every green and all my drives bored low and hot and seared through the shiny short grass until cooled and finally slowed to a stop by the dew.

Yeah, pretty much.

When I lost my third ball of the morning, in plain sight, I walked it in. There will be other dawns and better golf balls.

I looked there
In that shadow
Never found it.
I didn’t look there
Where it was
Two shadows over.

The road to The 25

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — A round at Ghost Creek at Pumpkin Ridge earlier this week is cause to look back at The 25 and ahead to the tournament that makes their names or breaks their hearts. The WinCo Foods Portland Open won’t come to the Portland suburbs until late August at Pumpkin Ridge’s Witch Hollow course, but even this early in the Web.com Tour’s season, there are some things shaping up.

For instance, Wesley Bryan, a 26-year-old South Carolinian, has virtually clinched his spot in The 25 — the top regular-season money-winners on the Web tour — with victories in two of the first six events, including last week at the El Bosque Mexico Championship in Guanajato, Mexico.

The 25, you know by now, is the list of players who earn PGA Tour cards by being in the magic number. Smylie Kaufman is a name you know — first for playing with Jordan Spieth in the final group on Sunday at The Masters, then for the 81 that blew him out of contention.

The 24-year-old Kaufman likely wouldn’t be playing with the big boys at all if he hadn’t gotten a leg up on The 25 last season by winning the Web.com’s United Leasing & Finance Championship, which returns this week to Victoria National GC in Indiana.

It all comes down to the WinCo, the last regular-season event (Aug. 25-28) on the Web.com schedule. There are other ways to get on the PGA Tour, but The 25 don’t have to worry about them — they’re in.

Augusta West

Augusta-esque: The pond by Eugene's No. 12 tee

Augusta-esque: The pond by Eugene’s No. 12 tee

EUGENE, Ore. – It’s overshadowed in its own state by the courses at Bandon Dunes, in the greater Northwest by Chambers Bay and Sahalee. But Eugene Country Club will take its Top 100 national rankings, make its members happy, and gladly host top-tier championships on the regal but rugged layout.

Slick greens (soon to get faster) and sticky rough (soon to get taller) exert their influence, so bring your A game with wedge and putter and be straight off the tee — or perish. Eugene won’t kill the kids coming in next month with its length, but it will bite if you drift near its jaws.

The NCAA Div. I Championships, first the women May 20-25 followed by the men May 27-June 1, will bring youth and mad skills to Eugene. The nasty rough edging the tight fairways, which was an inch and a half long for press hacks who tested the course on NCAA Media Day Monday, will grow out to 2 1/2 inches for the college women and 3 1/2 inches for the men.

The nines will be flipped for the championships, which will put the most dramatic holes, particularly the (now) front-nine par-3s, directly into the fray toward the end of close matches.

The water features and manicured flowering plants put a guy in mind of — dare I say it? — Augusta National. It’s not entirely accidental — hence the dogwoods, some native and more imported — and, though I’ve never seen Augusta in person, Eugene Country Club doesn’t suffer all that much by comparison.

 

The Masters: Unscripted edition

 Sports is the only reality TV left on your television set.

I don’t know how to break it to you: “Real Housewives of New Jersey” is a scripted drama. So is “Survivor” … and it’s a relief, really — dialogue that bad has to come from some writer somewhere.

The only reality show I ever liked was “The Osbournes,” because Ozzy wasn’t faking — he really is that guy.

The Masters 2016, had it been a drama in three acts, would have soared on birdies’ wings through the first act and into the second. There, just for a moment in the middle of the second act, the music would have darkened briefly. In the final act, we know, Young Jordan the Brave would have beaten back his own demons, slayed the Evil Dragon Danny against all odds, and saved Golf As We Know It for another week.

As we watched, the Masters played out a lot like that. Except Our Hero gasped for breath in his Under Armour, and Danny the Dogged emerged from Butler Cabin garbed in green. That’s reality, right there. Nobody could make that stuff up.

 

For crying out loud

 So easy for a guy of a certain age to get all snot-nosed and blubbery and he doesn’t know why and he doesn’t even have a cold or any known allergies, that he knows of.

If there’s any way to let me know if I’m about to run across a kid playing catch with his dad in the long shadows of late afternoon, please do. Take me over to the next block if there’s any chance I could hear ”Angel” droning from a neighborhood window.

Goddamn it, don’t let me anywhere near a Hallmark movie, even a Hallmark card. This is a tall order, I know, but friends don’t let a friend write drunk.

But sometimes, crying out loud, suddenly and publicly, is legit. Close friends die, sometimes twice in three weeks. Vinnie took the bus March 8; on March 30, Bob Clingman hopped on, too.

Bob played in the first-ever 3GA tournament in March 2006 at Lake Spanaway, and he played in a sprinkling of events through the early years of the Association. He is best known to the greater world as patriarch of a large blended family that includes his daughters Cheryl Mallory, spouse of our own Chris Mallory, and Susan Jeffries, wife of Kevin Jeffries, the first of our charter members to book passage.

Chris and Kevin mostly called him RG; his wife, Georgianna, called him Mike, for no known reason I know of. The Commissar called him a friend – road trip partner for Husky games in Berkeley and Tucson, Giants’ games in Candlestick and whatever they call the ballpark now on McCovey Cove; seatmate in Section 319 for who knows how many years of Seahawks’ games. Bob would have known.

Alzheimer’s is a shitty disease. Peace, Robert.

 ***

The Masters starts tomorrow, which is just a reminder in case you live in Baghdad or Damascus and might think you have more important things to think about.

Jason Day will win, and when he does, please remember that you read it here nowhere near first.

Further, while you watch, remember this: it’s not real.

Talking with Vinnie

I’ll need to use past tense some to tell this story, like when you get with a guy and say, “Remember that tournament game over at Stevens Field? Like 30 years ago? It was 21-to-20 or something we beat you guys? Uh, yeah, Vincent, we won that game … ”

And then you go on and talk about the wingnut twins – yeah, they were on your team, Vin – and their habit in the batter’s box of banging the barrel of the bat against their foreheads, every time, both of ‘em.

Vince Caronna 1951-2016

Vince Caronna

Then you talk about the poker games at Pat’s and John’s, and how it was a tough crowd there, and maybe not coming right out and saying Vince wasn’t equipped for the trash talk, but he wasn’t. He took his lumps and laughed and watched the Huskies win a national title – at the Lemon Road house, right, Vin?

You talk about watching the Saints win a Super Bowl, and the Seahawks lose one, and how he was watching the big games at Doug’s when the Hawks finally won one and then lost another.

And then you talk about how, even in a fantasy universe, he didn’t want to root against his guys … how he always picked Brees, if he could, for Danny’s fantasy league in PeEll USA, and how he always ended up with Colston or Graham and it‘s like, Vinnie, why do you always take whatever sorry-ass running back the Saints throw out there?

You talk about music, the Allmans and Buffett, and how I had to remind him he gave up his own tickets to see Bonnie Raitt at the Gorge as a wedding present for Greta and me. He said, “I did that? What was I thinking?”

You go on to talk about the dozen years or so in a row he went home for the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, which also meant golf with Wild Bill on nice courses in Mississippi and Louisiana. Yes, Vinnie, you did tell me all the acts you saw.

Yeah, golf, countless rounds, most of them at Tumwater Valley, but also at the venues of the Grey Goatee Golf Association. Nobody loves the Howl at the Canal better than you, Vincent.

You talk about all those times with that jerk on the golf course … Vin, you could just tell me to shut up and grow up, but all you ever say is, Take it easy, Bartski.

Then you talk about how he did get mad at me when I brought him home from a birthday round at Vicwood that night in July – like, 14 years ago? – and he saw the cars lining Lemon Road by his house. Yeah, I was in on the surprise, Vin, and we got you good. You’re still mad at me?

Eventually, you come around to talking about the cancer and how the doctors said it was one of the rarest kinds the world has ever seen. Like that was going to make you feel better, Vin. Well, it didn’t kill you. You’re still right here, still in present tense.

Finally, you talk about the big stuff. Hey, Vinnie, the 3GA opener is April 3. I’m putting you in The Commissar’s foursome, if that’s okay.

Vince Caronna died Tuesday, March 8, at home with his family. He was 64. Here are some related Vinnie links:

Vinnie Strong: The better story to tell

Golf into the gloaming

 

Tumwater partners up with craft booze makers

TUMWATER, Wash. – The Golf Course in the Valley of the Shadow of the Brewery is really the course in the valley of the shadow of the empty, decaying, long-defunct former brewery where once they made Oly. That crime against the drinking public notwithstanding, it’s sad and a little creepy to see the huge buildings and vast acreage sitting neglected, unused and apparently unusable.

Since the last big corporate owners of the brewery shut it in 2003, it’s been wannabe “owners” and temporary “holding companies” and visionary “public-private developers” who can’t quite get enough actual cash onto the barrelhead.

Now comes the next guy up, and skepticism still rules the discourse. But maybe, just maybe, this time … well, we do hear things.

The city of Tumwater, which owns the golf course and retains a keen interest in the future of the brewery, is making its Olympic Flight Museum out on Old 99 available for the South Sound Spirits Gathering, a trade fair and tasting Saturday for close to 20 craft distillers from Seattle and points south and west.

The city, according to the local rag, is hosting the event to get the eyes of the drinking public on the new Thurston Craft Brewing and Distilling “partnership zone” – i.e., a brewing and distilling center to be established by the city at the old brewery facility.

It’s a start, maybe, toward a beginning. The city, it seems like, wouldn’t get this far down the road if the man with the plan wasn’t packing the moneybags along with bringing the noise.

In the meantime, while we wait and see, we can get our drink on from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Olympic Flight Museum, 7637-A Old Highway 99 S.E., Tumwater. Sip, eat snacks, 40 bucks.