KO’ed

swinging skirts logoWho would have thunk they were referring to fisticuffs and not hemlines when they named this event? For four days a couple of world-class bantamweights (maybe 118 clothed and drenched) traded jabs and hooks in a classic toe-to-toe donnybrook at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco in the first LPGA Swinging Skirts Classic.

Any thing but Peace and Love at Lake Merced
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The young phenom Lydia Ko, who just turned 17 this week, vs the grizzled veteran Stacy Lewis in “take this, no you take this” as they never left each other’s sight over the four days of the event. It wasn’t decided until the last two phenomenal up-and-downs for birdie on the par five eighteenth. Ko prevailed by a shot, looked elated, and Stacy looked drained like Sponge Bob Square Pants after a week in the Mohave Desert with no canteen. This was golf competed at it’s highest level.

Playing together in the lingering marine layer on Thursday Lydia opened with 68 to Stacy’s 69. Chilly rains on Friday and Stacy answered with 69 to Lydia’s 71 to take a one shot lead.  Saturday the weather improved and the two playing together again matched cards with a pair of 68’s to set up Sunday’s showdown with Stacy up one at 10-under par.

The skies were clear on Sunday and they treated the fans to a major-like struggle between two of the best in the game today. Lydia had a roller coaster front side with a bogey-bounce back birdie barrage over the last four holes to make the turn at 10-under. Stacy matched the scorecard with nine pars on the outward half and the two were tied as they headed to the 10th tee.

They both flinched with a bogey on 10 but stayed even through the 12th at 9-under par. At this point Lydia found another gear and birdied 13 and 14 to take what appeared to be a commanding three-shot lead as Stacy dropped a shot with a bogie on the 13th.

But as anyone who watches the LPGA Tour regularly knows Stacy Lewis never leaves the table until the counting is done. She throws down a pair of birdies on 15 and 16 and all of a sudden was within one again.

As always Stacy Lewis is all business
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What happens next is the stuff of lore. Lewis hits it within 20 feet on the difficult 17th and Ko is over the green with a very difficult downhill pitch from the heavy rough. Displaying a short game all week that would make Phil drool, Lydia delicately filters her pitch to gimme range to save par and Stacy cannot convert the birdie to tie. In the spirit of full disclosure Jenny Shin has quietly snuck her way into the mix at 10-under and one behind heading to the last tee.

The par five eighteenth has not yielded birdie to any of them all week but it is evident it will take just that to force or stave off a playoff. Three solid drives and both Jenny and Stacy lay up on Main Street about 100 yards from a tight front pin on the elevated green above. Lydia makes an unforced error and pulls her lay up into the heavy rough just off the fairway.

Lewis and Shin play a pair of remarkable pitches to strong birdie range and now it is obvious that Lydia needs match their deed with a ball she cannot spin and no green to work with. Perfect judgment and perfect execution, one bounce on the front collar and it trundles up to six feet. Lydia delivers the haymaker by slamming the birdie putt home leaving Stacy distraught and dismayed over a now meaningless birdie putt.

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Final putt splits the uprights
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The LPGA Tour suffers from a lack of TV viewership and the recognition that would bring but it does not lack for talent and competitive feistiness.The ladies’ game is in good hands, with or without Allstate, as was shown by the riveting, competitive display of these two champions over four days in the hills of northern California.

All smiles, Lydia hoists the glass honorarium

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April, 2014

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