Rozner: In praise of women's golf and a new star

  • Patty Tavatanakit shows off her hardware after winning the LPGA's ANA Inspiration last week at Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif.

    Patty Tavatanakit shows off her hardware after winning the LPGA's ANA Inspiration last week at Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/13/2021 3:07 PM

As much as I was consumed by the Masters over the last week, there was nevertheless a nagging feeling coming from somewhere in this thick head.

At first, I thought it was a sudden need to learn the art of driver off the deck. No doubt, this is keeping me up at night, and it's probably a bad idea anyway.

 

But it wasn't that.

And then I saw Bryson DeChambeau injure another golf ball and it hit me right between the eyes. As much as DeChambeau is affecting the game -- and his rivals -- at every turn, something else happened a week ago that got little attention outside the golf world.

LPGA rookie Patty Tavatanakit claimed her first major -- and first victory -- going to wire-to-wire at the ANA Inspiration in Palm Springs, the first rookie to win the event since Juli Inkster in 1984.

The win was extraordinary in so many ways for the 21-year-old from Thailand, but it was remarkable because of the way in which she overpowered Mission Hills and the rest of the field in the process.

Her poise was stunning as she was chased on Sunday by two-time major champ Lydia Ko, herself once the No. 1 player in the world at 17 years old and the winner in the desert in 2016.

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Ko threatened a 59 with a front-9 record 29, ultimately shooting a 62. But for most of the back 9, Ko was within 2 shots of the lead.

Tavatanakit displayed a short game and putting stroke that was every bit as impressive as her driving distance, but it was her length that sent a message to the rest of the Tour, that a new star has arrived and this is a golfer to watch from here on out.

Heading into the ANA, the LPGA distance leader was 23-year-old Bianca Pagdanganan (285 yards), though she routinely crushes it over 300 and is herself a player with a bright future.

Tavatanakit then averaged -- averaged -- 323 yards over four days of a major championship in very tough conditions with a strong wind and deep rough, a 348-yard average in Round 3 when she took a 5-shot lead, while for the week hitting 66 percent of the fairways and 84 percent of the greens.

That's amazing for someone with that kind of power. DeChambeau in winning the U.S. Open last year with his bomb-and-gouge mentality averaged 325 yards off the tee and hit only 41 percent of the fairways.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Tavatanakit was hitting Walmart drives all week. It's a golf phrase coined to picture a Walmart between two players' drives. Frequently 100 yards past her playing partners, it wouldn't be as intimidating if she hadn't also flushed her irons, day after day, shot after shot.

The 2-shot victory was so impressive that had it not been for Jordan Spieth breaking a long drought in Texas the same day, leading into Masters week, Tavatanakit would have dominated the golf headlines.

At least, one can hope.

Women's golf in a very good place right now, with so many great players from so many corners of the globe, less than two years after Hank Haney was fired from his radio show for mocking the women and Korean golfers just before the U.S. Open.

"I couldn't name you, like, six players on the LPGA Tour. Maybe I could," Haney said. "Well, I'd go with 'Lee' if I didn't have to name a first name. I'd get a bunch of them right ... I don't know anybody. Where are they playing, anyway?"

The radio golf "expert" didn't know anything about the U.S. Open being played at the Country Club of Charleston, which has been around for 120 years and hosts the Azalea, an annual national amateur event.

And he didn't know anything about the best female golfers in the world. Worst yet, he had to embarrass women, Koreans and an entire sport.

"As a Korean American female golfer, these comments that (Haney) made disappoint and anger me on so many different levels," Michelle Wie tweeted that day. "Racism and sexism are no laughing matter Hank. Shame on you."

Seems pretty likely that Haney didn't watch the ANA, that he doesn't know Tavatanakit was a huge star at UCLA.

Unfortunately, the Haney disgrace was the biggest headline the LPGA has received in years, when in reality this is a game well worth your time.

Now, as a new star is born, hopefully there will better and bigger headlines. Don't be shocked if Patty Tavatanakit delivers many more.

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