Pepper Added an Indispensable Spice to the Game
I remember meeting her later by chance at Pings practice range in Phoenix and thinking, Hmm. Glad I reserved final judgment.
I found that not all of Dotties warmth comes from her competitive fire (for which she has never made any apologies, by the way). Much of it comes from her genuineness, her passion for the game, and her willingness to talk with any fellow golfer. For someone like that, retirement because of injury at the age of 38 must be especially difficult.
Pepper withdrew from the U.S. Womens Open Thursday when the pinched nerve that has been savaging her back and neck started to make her face go numb. Understandably, she held back tears as she left the stage of our national championship.
'Injuries have made a game that was really fun a job,' she said.
If Dottie had ever had a job in the sense that most people use the word, she would have owned the company within a year. She is constitutionally incapable of lack of enthusiasm. As bad as her injuries became, I doubt golf was ever really a job for her.
Pepper grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and joined the LPGA Tour in 1988. She won 17 times, including two Kraft Nabisco Championships (1992, 1999). She won three other times in 1992 and came in second 24 times in her career. She played on six Solheim Cup teams, going so far as to paint her nails red, white and blue. She got the European teams goat so thoroughly that they used her image on a punching bag.
(Solheim Cuppers shouldnt have been surprised. Dottie attended Furman University, where she was a three-time golf All American. She was inducted into Furmans Hall of Fame in 1992. Lest she forget her alma mater, she named one of her dogs Furman. Now, thats dedication.)
Her enthusiasm and near-maniacal drive to win got most of the press, but behind the attitude was a solid game, the kind that makes one endorse the old maxim, It aint braggin if you can back it up. For that reason, any heightened exuberance in the patriotism way was overlooked, or quickly forgotten.
Even though her playing days will soon be over (she will play a handful more events this summer), golf would benefit by having Dottie Pepper around. She plans to seek broadcast opportunities (indeed, she will work the Womens Open this week from a new side of the microphone). Its easy to imagine her as a successful college coach, or as a spokesperson for nationwide programs designed to increase participation. Theres simply too much energy there to let it go to waste, as long as Dottie is willing.
When your body says No, it doesnt matter how big your heart is, said a downhearted Pepper when she made the announcement.
I beg to differ. A heart this big should always be welcome in the world of golf.
COURSE DESIGN POLL: Id love to hear your opinions on these informal rules of thumb in golf course design: 1. If possible, arrange the routing so the players encounter three wind directions in the first four holes; 2. An interesting course has a short par-3, a long par-3, a short par-4 (maybe even drivable for really skilled players), a long par-4 that will have many players looking for a chip-plus-one-putt to make par, a reachable par-5, a par-5 that cannot be reached in two under any circumstances by most players, and twelve other holes as the designer sees fit; 3 Courses that do not have the configuration set forth in No. 2 are still good because [fill in blank].
Send me your impressions at email@example.com, and well discuss them in a column soon. Thanks.
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."