Jan 29

Rookie Leads LPGA Opener

Ha Na Jang Surprises Veterans in Cold Start

 

This week marks the first time in a decade and a half that the LPGA Tour has started its season on the North American continent. The LPGA might have tempted fate by doing so. One or two things about the 2015 inaugural Coates Golf Championship weren’t quite right.

First of all, despite the LPGA having as much access to meteorologists as anyone else, and possessing the wisdom to hold the tournament in Florida, the first tee was flat out cold, for most of us, too cold for playing golf – but, what are you going to do, now that it’s all set up? The first thing you do is experience a frost delay, and when you experience a frost delay, chances are that you’ll also experience a darkness delay.
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Secondly, the wrong person is leading – at least that’s what some of the high-profile veterans thought.

ha na 1 It all started out as planned, with a star-studded leaderboard. Stacy Lewis, Jessica Korda, and Azahara Munoz doing what they were supposed to do. They came in with matching cards of 66. The established greats left the course assuming that was it for the day, but nobody told a twenty-two year old Korean rookie about that. Ha Na Jang is sitting on top of the whole affair at twelve under after rounds of 67 and 65. Jang offered a near-clinic on the short game, and on several occasions, left herself easy work with the putter. This is Jang’s rookie year, but she’s no kid, nor does she seem to exhibit much in the way of nerves, despite only playing in one previous professional tournament on either the LPGA or European Ladies Tours – the Evian Championship. That’s her entire resume on the big stage, but it is worth noting that she tied for 3rd  in that major against a field that included every great female golfer on the planet.
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My interest in the new influx of young golfers is not centered around where they come from, although I continue to marvel at the degree of discipline that South Korea seems able to exert. My greater interest is in what I think of as the new rookie personality. It is the same bold personality that college teachers notice in this generation of students and that CEOs find among their younger employees. In short, for women such as Ha Na Jang, the number of tournaments that Stacy, Jessica, and Azahara have won is an irrelevant statistic. It just doesn’t matter. That was last year, or some other event in some other place. The new rookie personality started showing itself around the advent of Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko, something that said, “Someone’s going to win this thing – why not me?”

Will we develop a nostalgia for the old days, what we oldsters call the days of “paying dues,” that era in which we were mind-boggled just entering the clubhouse, fainting at meeting established stars, or just considering the magnitude of what we’d just been invited to join? Doesn’t anybody freak out any more?
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As a rebuttal, pros like Stacy, Jessica, and Azahara do have one quality that most rookies have not yet developed when they go to the first tee and shoot the lights out of the course. They have staying power. They know how to last, to pace, and don’t need to blow everything on a first and last glorious round.

Whether this will be the case with Ha Na Jang is unknown. We used to be able to count on a rookie to crack, unless she was Babe Didrikson. Nowadays, though, they just don’t look nervous enough – at least Ha Na Jang doesn’t.

 

 

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