Can K.H. Lee and Minjee Lee get repeat victories and more from the week in golf

The PGA Championship, golf’s second major championship of the season, is just a week away.

Before the world’s best players tee it up at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, a handful of the game’s elite are competing in the AT&T Byron Nelson outside Dallas this week.

The LPGA Tour returns to the East Coast on Thursday at the Cognizant Founders Cup, while the LIV Golf League is back in the U.S. after a few weeks in Australia and Singapore.

AT&T Byron Nelson
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: TPC Craig Ranch, McKinney, Texas
Defending champion: K.H. Lee
Purse: $9.5 million

Lee’s attempt at three-peat: Few could blame Lee if he pulled a Charley Hoffman and wore a T-shirt calling the AT&T Byron Nelson the “K.H. Lee Open,” like Hoffman did after winning more than $3.7 million at the Valero Texas Open.

Lee is the only winner of the AT&T Byron Nelson since it moved to TPC Craig Ranch in 2021. The South Korean golfer defeated Sam Burns by 3 strokes in 2021 and held off Jordan Spieth by 1 last year. Lee is a combined 51 under par over his past eight rounds there, gaining more than 29 strokes to the field during that span.

If Lee wins again this week, he’d become only the fourth player to win a tournament in at least three consecutive years in the past four decades. Steve Stricker was the last player to do it (John Deere Classic 2009-11). Tiger Woods did it in six tournaments (Farmers Insurance Open, 2005-08; WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, 2005-07; WGC-CA Championship, 2005-07; Arnold Palmer Invitational, 2000-03; WGC-NEC Invitational, 1999-2001; the Memorial, 1999-2001), and Stuart Appleby did it once (Tournament of Champions, 2004-06).

Lee hasn’t won anywhere else on tour (he has just five other top-5 finishes in 132 other tour starts) and the $3.1 million he picked up in the past two tournaments accounts for about 29% of his career earnings.

Wise is back: Aaron Wise, who skipped a start in the Masters and took time off to prioritize his mental health, is back in the field at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Wise, the 2016 NCAA individual champion at Oregon, picked up his only PGA Tour victory at the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson, which was played at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas. He is currently ranked No. 51 in the Official World Golf Ranking. To earn a spot in the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in July, Wise will have to be ranked 50th or better in two weeks.

Wise has just one top-10 finish in 10 starts in stroke-play events this season, a solo sixth at the CJ Cup in South Carolina in October. He had missed the cut in four of five starts and tied for 31st at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before taking a break.

Another stadium hole: There’s another new “stadium hole” on the PGA Tour, this time at the par-3 17th at TPC Craig Ranch. For the first time, the hole will have a fully enclosed stadium with suites and grandstands behind the green.

Tournament officials are hoping to have about 6,000 fans sitting at the hole, which they have dubbed Ranch17 to honor the tournament’s namesake, Byron Nelson, a 52-time winner on tour.

The LIV Golf League had a stadium hole, called the Watering Hole, at its tournament in Adelaide, Australia, last month.

What’s next in the LIV Golf League

LIV Golf Invitational Tulsa
When: Friday-Sunday
Where: Cedar Ridge Country Club, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
Purse: $25 million

Three things to watch:

Gooch goes home: Talor Gooch, who grew up in Midwest City, Oklahoma and still lives there, is heading home this week. The former Oklahoma State star returns to his roots as perhaps the hottest golfer on the planet.

Gooch won the individual title in each of the LIV Golf League’s past two events in Australia and Singapore, becoming the first back-to-back winner in the circuit’s two-year history. He collected $8 million in prize money and his RangeGoats GC squad captured its first team title in Singapore.

Gooch leads the season-long individual points race with 92, with former Oklahoma State stars Peter Uihlein (73) and Charles Howell III (69) right behind him.

Phil Mickelson takes aim (again): While Gooch is playing well and getting rich, he might not be playing in the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club next month. A recent rules revision by the United States Golf Association could keep him out of the field.

The USGA tweaked its rule that provided exemptions to players who qualified for the Tour Championship at the end of the PGA Tour season. The rule now reads that exemptions will go to “those players who qualified and were eligible for the season-ending 2022 Tour Championship.”

Gooch wasn’t eligible to play in the Tour Championship in August because PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended him for competing in LIV Golf tournaments without a conflicting-event release.

Despite having back-to-back wins this month, Gooch has fallen to 63rd in the OWGR because players aren’t receiving world-ranking points for their LIV Golf finishes. He was 56th after tying for 34th at the Masters. Gooch has to be in the top 60 on May 22 or June 12 to make the U.S. Open field.

USGA CEO Mike Whan defended the decision and said his organization wasn’t targeting Gooch with the change. LIV Golf star Phil Mickelson wasn’t buying it.

Another Trump course? The LIV Golf League will stage tournaments on three courses owned by former U.S. President Donald Trump this season. His son Eric suggested to the Irish Times this week that a future LIV Golf event could also be played at Trump International Golf Links, Doonbeg, which is located on Ireland’s west coast.

“We have got a great relationship with them,” Eric Trump told the Irish Times. “They’re in three locations of ours this year, two last year, many more next year. So if that opportunity is right … they move their locations around the world, they want to be in different countries, they want to get maximum exposure and I think that’s again a really good thing for the game of golf.”

LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman designed the Doonbeg course, which was overhauled in 2016 after the Trump Organization purchased it.

What’s next on the LPGA Tour

Cognizant Founders Cup
When: Thursday-Sunday
Where: Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton, New Jersey
Defending champion: Minjee Lee
Purse: $3 million

Honoring the 13: The Founders Cup honors the 13 women, known as the “founders,” who launched the LPGA Tour more than seven decades ago. The tournament debuted in Phoenix in 2011 and moved to New Jersey in 2021.

With the help of title sponsor Cognizant, the Cup’s purse doubled from $1.5 million in 2019 to $3 million in the past two seasons.

Seven of the 13 founders of the LPGA — Alice Bauer, Bettye Danoff, Helen Dettweiler, Helen Hicks, Opal Hill, Sally Sessions and Shirley Spork — were selected for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame in March. The other six were previously inducted.

“[I] just think they really paved the way for us and the tour,” defending champion Minjee Lee said. “We’ve gone from strength to strength since then, and I think we wouldn’t have this tour without them and the LPGA. We’re really, really grateful for what they did for us. Hopefully, we can live up to their standards and leave the LPGA and women’s golf in a better place than we found it.”

Lee’s defense: Lee’s 2-stroke victory over Lexi Thompson at last season’s Founders Cup jump-started a productive campaign, in which she won her second major championship at the U.S. Women’s Open. She picked up the largest winner’s purse in women’s golf history at $1.8 million. The Australian collected another $1 million by claiming the season-long Aon Risk Reward Challenge.

“I kind of jump-started my season I guess, so I was striking the ball really well here,” Lee told reporters on Tuesday. “Because the golf course is quite demanding, I feel like all parts of my game came together for that win. [It] gave me a lot of confidence for the next couple weeks and obviously the U.S. Open. So, yeah, I really have great memories here and [I’m] hoping to do the same this week.”

Loaded field: Fresh off their victory in the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, three members of the Thailand team are competing in New Jersey this week — Ariya Jutanugarn, Patty Tavatanakit and Atthaya Thitikul. Moriya Jutanugarn elected not to play.

The Thailand team won 11 of its 12 matches last week, sweeping the Australian team in the finals to win Thailand’s first International Crown title. Ariya Jutanugarn was named the MVP. The Founders Cup field also includes eight of the top 10 players in the world (Canada’s Brooke Henderson and South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim aren’t competing), along with six of the seven winners this season.

New PGA Tour event

The PGA Tour announced on Wednesday that there will be a new event during the 2024 season at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The tour and the club signed a four-year agreement. The Myrtle Beach Classic will be a full-field tournament that will be played the same week as a limited-field, no-cut designated event. The tournament will have a $3.9 million purse and the winner will receive 300 FedEx Cup points.

The date of the new tournament in Myrtle Beach wasn’t announced. It will be sponsored by Visit Myrtle Beach.

Along with the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina will host two PGA Tour events in 2024.

Game of honor

Illinois senior Tommy Kuhl thought he’d achieved the first step in qualifying for the upcoming U.S. Open on Monday when he carded a course-record 62 and won medalist honors at a local qualifier at Illini Country Club in Springfield, Illinois.

But while watching a teammate complete his round, another teammate mentioned to Kuhl how difficult it had been putting on the course’s aerated greens. Immediately, Kuhl realized he’d made a big mistake during his record-setting round. He had been repairing aeration marks on the greens, which isn’t permitted under USGA rules.

Under rule 13.1c(2) of the Rules of Golf, a player may repair damage to the green caused by “ball marks, shoe damage (such as spike marks) and scrapes or indentations caused by equipment, or a flagstick, old hole, plugs, turf plugs, seams of cut turf or scrapes or indentations from maintenance tools or vehicles.” It also allows for the repair of damage caused by an animal, such as tracks or hoof indentations. It does not specifically allow for the repair of aeration marks.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” Kuhl told Monday Q Info. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t tell the rules official.”

Kuhl chose to DQ himself.

“I should know better,” he said. “It comes down to me. I should know that rule.”

Starting young

Bella Simoes attempted to become the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open this week. The 9-year-old from Brazil participated in a 36-hole qualifier at The Club at Mediterra in Naples, Florida.

The top two finishers, Brooke Matthews and Lindy Duncan, qualified for the first U.S. Women’s Open played at Pebble Beach in June. Simoes carded an 85 in the first round and was well off the pace.

Lucy Li was the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open as a 10-year-old in 2013.

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