Changing of the Guard at Solheim Cup

By Associated PressSeptember 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Solheim CupHALMSTAD, Sweden -- Strategically placed in the perfectly manicured practice bunker were a couple of miniature plastic dump trucks, some little pails and shovels and the beginnings of a couple of sand castles.
 
Yes, folks, these Solheim Cup kids are young.
 
Fans will get a great look at where women's golf has been and where it's heading when the Americans take on the Europeans in the Solheim Cup starting Friday.
 
On the one hand, there are Laura Davies and Juli Inkster, two 40-somethings who still have the game to play at the highest level.
 
On the other, there are Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer and Brittany Lincicome -- none of whom have hit 25 and all of whom are trying to take their sport to new places.
 
'Our team has got a lot of heart and spunk and a lot of ribbons and scrunchies,' Inkster said Thursday when asked about the general state of the American team.
 
One of the most telling stories of the week had little to do with golf, much more to do with the quest to make it more popular. Creamer and American captain Betsy King were standing outside signing autographs. Creamer saw King mindlessly scribbling and asked her if she signed her name legibly enough for fans to read once they got the autographs home.
 
'She said, `I want to make sure that everybody can read it when I write it,'' King said. 'She said, `When you sign things for people, then they can relate to you better. They kind of get the whole picture.' Obviously, it benefits them personally, but it also benefits the tour and they're interested in helping the tour as a whole.'
 
Gulbis has her own TV show. She, Creamer and 29-year-old Cristie Kerr made appearances at the Oscars earlier this year. A bunch of them do magazine covers, calendar shoots and have appeared as runway models.
 
The LPGA has moved beyond trying to deny any hint of sex appeal and embraced the idea of having its youngest, brightest stars selling to the masses. It's an arrangement everyone can benefit from.
 
'So many young Americans is helping the tour,' Davies said. 'If the LPGA is strong, women's golf is strong.'
 
Of course, without some game to go along with their PR savvy, this would not be a conversation.
 
But that hasn't been an issue. At 19, Morgan Pressel is making her Solheim Cup debut. She became the youngest major winner earlier this year when she took the Nabisco. Creamer is 21 and reached the $1 million mark in earnings faster than anyone in history. Gulbis is 24 and has 23 top-20 finishes. On the European side, 26-year-old Suzann Pettersen won the McDonalds LPGA Championship this year for her first major.
 
What can someone like Davies, who has played in every Solheim Cup since it was founded in 1990, offer this week to players who have experience and success beyond their years?
 
'It's a bit of encouragement here and there,' Davies said. 'They've all won tournaments. They know what it's all about.'
 
She conceded, however, that the first tee box at the Solheim Cup will come as something of a shock. There's something about playing for your country and your teammates that adds pressure.
 
'I want to win this for Juli Inkster,' said Kerr, this year's U.S. Open champion. 'I don't know how many cups she's going to be on in the future, and especially on foreign soil. This is pretty good inspiration for me.'
 
King and European captain Helen Alfredsson released the pairings late Thursday for opening-day matches. The first two days consist of 16 team matches and the tournament closes with 12 singles matches. As defending champions, the Americans need 14 of the 28 points to retain the cup. Europe needs 14 1/2 . Only once has the cup been won by the visitor -- in 1996, when the Americans won in Wales.
 
The marquee match in the opening session pits Davies and Becky Brewerton against Creamer and Inkster in foursomes. Also, Kerr and Pat Hurst play Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson; Gulbis and Pressel play Gwladys Nocera and Maria Hjorth; and Annika Sorenstam and Catriona Matthew play Sherri Steinhauer and Laura Diaz.
 
Sorenstam, still not at 100 percent because of a bad back and neck, said she isn't sure if she'll play five matches this weekend.
 
Davies, on the other hand, says she hopes she's called on for all five. The 43-year-old, with 67 career victories, will never be mistaken for Gulbis or Pressel, but doesn't think the sport has passed her by.
 
'I'm playing as well now as I've ever played, and age is nothing,' Davies said. 'Golf -- everyone goes on about all this fitness -- but golf is walking and swinging a club.'
 
At this event, it's also about hanging out and bonding, playing pingpong and a practical joke or two.
 
The American women all got presents for each other. King handed out hat pins. Creamer gave everybody sunglasses. Pressel made red and blue ribbons for her teammates to put in their hair.
 
Inkster, 47, doesn't have long hair, so she'll put her ribbon on her bag.
 
'She put a lot of effort into it,' Inkster said. 'I want to make sure she knows I care.'
 
Probably not exactly the kind of stuff Inkster worried about back in 1992, when Pressel was 4 and Inkster was making her Solheim Cup debut.
 
How could these teammates have anything in common?
 
'I've got a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old that are exactly the same,' Inkster said of her daughters, Hayley and Cori. 'We still hang with them. We can talk their lingo and listen to their music, and so it's really not that different than it is in my house.'
 
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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 11:44 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1 for 6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Tiger Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than Rory McIlroy (13). 

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    Randall's Rant: Tiger no longer one with the chaos

    By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2018, 9:49 pm

    Back in the day, Tiger Woods appeared to relish riding atop the chaos, above the raucous waves of excitement that followed him wherever he went.

    Like Kelly Slater surfing epic peaks at Banzai Pipeline ...

    Like Chris Sharma dangling atop all the hazards on the cliff face of “The Impossible Climb” at Clark Mountain ...

    Hell, like Chuck Yeager ahead of the sonic boom he created breaking the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert in 1947.

    It was difficult to tell whether Woods was fueling the bedlam in his duel with Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, or if it was fueling him.

    Fans scampered in a frenzy you rarely see in golf to get the best look they could at his next shot at Valhalla in that playoff.

    Same thing when Woods turned his 15-shot rout into a victory parade in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that same year.

    And when Woods improbably chipped in at the 16th at Augusta National to shake every pine tree at the Masters before going on to defeat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005.

    Tiger brought a boisterous, turbulent new wave of excitement to the game, unrivaled since Arnie’s Army followed the legend in his heyday.

    Woods attracted new fans who did not understand golf’s time-honored traditions. He lured them to the game’s most hallowed grounds. There were challenges with that, though they always seemed more daunting to Woods’ playing partners than to him.

    At his best, Tiger seemed to be one with the chaos, able to turn its energy into his energy.

    Every Tiger pairing in his prime turned wherever he was into a home game, turned every golf course into his stadium and transformed every opponent into the visiting team.

    We heard how hard that was for the Bob Mays, Chris DiMarcos and even the Ernie Els of the world.



    That’s what added to the intrigue of Tiger’s return to Riviera last week, and what will make this week at PGA National and the Honda Classic similarly interesting.

    Tiger’s back.

    Well, the overly exuberant frenzy only he can create is back, but his game isn’t. Not yet. And now we’re hearing how the bedlam is a challenge to more than his playing partners. It’s a challenge to his game, too.

    “It cost me a lot of shots over the years,” Woods said at the Genesis Open. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there.

    “I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

    Huh? Did Tiger forget the advantage he had playing in a storm? Or are today’s storms different, more unruly, more destructive?

    Did having total control of all facets of his game when he was at his best make the bedlam work for him?

    Does the focus it requires to find his old magic today make the chaos work against him?

    Jack Nicklaus used to say that when he heard players complaining about difficult conditions going into a major, he checked them off his list of competitive threats.

    You wonder if Tiger did the same back in the day, when players talked about the challenges that surrounded a pairing with him.

    Golf is different than other sports. That has to be acknowledged here.

    When you hear mainstream sports fans wonder what is so wrong with a fan yelling in a player’s backswing, you know they don’t understand the game. A singular comment breaking the silence over a player’s shot in golf is like a fan sneaking onto the field in football and tripping a receiver racing up the sideline. It is game-changing chaos.

    Is Tiger facing game-changing chaos now?

    Or was Riviera’s noise something he just can’t harness in his current state of repair? Is there more pressure on him trying to come back in that environment?

    If Rory McIlroy needed a “couple Advil” for the headache the mayhem at the Genesis Open caused him playing with Tiger last week, then May and DiMarco must have needed shots of Demerol.

    Then all those guys who lost majors to Tiger in final-round pairings with him must have felt like they endured four-hour migraines.

    “It got a little out of hand,” Justin Thomas said of his two days with Tiger at Riviera.

    Maybe McIlroy and Thomas were dealing with something boisterously new, more Phoenix Open in its nausea than anything Tiger created when he broke golf out of a niche.

    Whatever it is, Tiger’s challenge finding his best will be even more complicated if he’s no longer one with the chaos, if he can no longer turn its energy into his energy.

    If that’s the case, he really may be just one of the guys this time around.

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    What's in the bag: Genesis Open winner Watson

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 7:02 pm

    Bubba Watson won the Genesis Open for a third time in his career. Here's a look inside his bag:

    Driver: Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees), with Grafalloy Bi-Matrix Prototype X shaft

    Hybrid: Ping G (19 degrees), with Matrix Altus Hybrid X shaft

    Irons: Ping iBlade (2), Ping S55 (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

    Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (52 degrees, 56 degrees, 62 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

    Putter: Ping PLD Anser

    Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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    Monday Scramble: Which way did he go?

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 4:15 pm

    Bubba Watson reemerges, Tiger Woods misses the cut, the PGA Tour might have a fan problem, Billy Hurley III loses an election and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

    Bubba Golf is back, and not a moment too soon for the PGA Tour.

    Love him or loathe him – and there are plenty of folks on both side of the aisle – the game is more interesting when Watson is in the mix.

    Bubba went AWOL for two years, and entering the back half of his 30s, he thought his golf career might be finished. He got passed over for a Ryder Cup spot in 2016, despite being ranked inside the top 10 in the world. He endured a mysterious illness that caused him to lose 40 pounds on his already slight frame. He surprisingly changed his golf ball (more on that later). And he questioned his desire and motivation to play, until wife Angie gave him a swift kick in his white pants.

    Watson was at his best at Riviera, again, shaping shots around the tree-lined fairways and holing just enough putts for a two-shot win.

    Where Bubba goes from here – the Masters is less than 50 days away – is anyone’s guess, but the game just got a lot more entertaining.

    1. Watson has not disclosed what illness he suffered from last year, and in true Bubba fashion, he grew tired of being asked about it, even though he was the one who brought it up. “I’m not talking about the illness no more, it’s no big deal. I’m here. I’m healthy. There are people that are a lot sicker than me in this world, so the illness is nothing.”

    He said that he seriously wondered whether he’d ever win tournaments again. Though he has a number of small businesses to fall back on – a candy shop, a minor-league baseball team, a car dealership – it’s not as satisfying as playing good golf.  

    "I was close [to retirement]," he said. "My wife was not close. My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She’s a lot tougher than I am."

    2. Though his game was already trending downward, Watson decided to switch his ball at the beginning of 2017. Players change equipment all the time, of course, but none rely on feel and shot shape as much as Watson.

    It was a bizarre decision that he hasn’t yet fully explained, and likely never will, but he said in October that he didn’t have a ball deal to begin this new season. He played the Titleist Pro V1x at Riviera.

    “Equipment is not the problem,” he said Sunday. “I got down to low-160s in weight. My ball speed, my swing, everything changed.”  

    3. As memorable as Bubba’s holed bunker shot on 14 was, this will be the defining moment of his week in LA:


    4. Here’s what Watson said in late 2014: “My goal is 10 wins and to make every team event. Those are the biggest goals. And until we reach those goals, I’m going to keep trying. If I get to 10, then I can switch it from there. Or retire.”

    Watson on Sunday bristled when asked whether he was possibly going to retire, like he had said – “I don’t know if I was going to retire, let’s don’t start putting words out there” – but the point remains that he now has to change his goals.

    And he doesn’t know where to start.

    “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let’s be honest,” he said. “Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can’t putt. Somehow we’re here, making fun of it. So yes, I’ve got to set a new goal.”

    After this latest win, and the two-year exemption, he said that he won’t retire for at least two more years, and that he’ll play the Masters “until they kick me out.”



    5. The Tiger Woods comeback tour hit a snag last week at Riviera.

    The driving issues that hampered Woods at Torrey Pines didn't magically disappear. He was still inconsistent with his iron play. (His 16 greens hit in two rounds were the fewest of his Tour career.) And he wasn’t as sharp around the greens. It added up to 72-76 and an early exit in his first L.A. appearance in more than a decade.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit 36 percent of the fairways and 54 percent of the greens.

    That's a problem, because PGA National might be even more difficult, with water on seemingly every hole and 15-mph winds expected. Uh-oh.

    6. Woods’ driver remains his biggest problem.

    While he’d largely eliminated the left side of the course at Torrey Pines, that wasn’t the case at Riviera.

    Putting a new, more “stout” model of shaft in his TaylorMade driver, Woods missed right almost exclusively in the opening round, then had several double crosses left with the big stick on Day 2.

    His short game and putting might be vastly improved compared to the horrors of the past few years, but it’ll be hard to compete and then contend if he’s hitting it off the planet. (And many of those off-line drives would find the water at PGA National.)

    For the week, he ranked 128th in strokes gained-off the tee, 100th approaching the green, 95th around the green and 65th putting.

    7. The news wasn’t all bad, though.

    That Woods committed to the Honda Classic, his hometown event, was an encouraging sign. That signals A) he has a desire to play tournaments, and B) he’s physically able to do it.

    For the first time in years, we’re finally able to judge Woods on the quality of his play, not his health. 



    8. The PGA Tour might be reaching a breaking point in regards to fan behavior.

    Players know what they’re signing up for at TPC Scottsdale, but even regular Tour stops are getting more raucous than players and officials would like.

    Woods created such a scene over the first two rounds at Riviera that his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, said that he had a splitting headache and that the circus probably costs Woods a half shot each round. Justin Thomas said Saturday that spectators are trying to scream and time their moronic comments perfectly. “It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.

    The same thing happened at Torrey Pines, where a fan screamed during Woods’ putting stroke. It happened (a lot) at Phoenix, where a fan twice yelled in Jordan Spieth’s downswing. And it’ll absolutely happen again this week at the Honda Classic, especially at the long, par-3 17th, where tournament organizers have put their most overserved fans almost directly on top of the tee.

    It’s only a matter of time before one of these idiots costs a player the tournament.  

    9. Bill Haas was involved in a horrifying car crash last week in Los Angeles. The driver of the Ferrari he was traveling in, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was killed, while Haas and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital.

    It was a scary incident, and a sad one for the Haas family. Fortunately, Haas escaped without any major injuries, but the mental toll could be immense.

    Wish him the best.  



    10. So it looks like it’ll be another drama-filled year for Lydia Ko.

    After going winless in 2017 and changing every major aspect of her game, she returned this year with even more changes – a new swing coach, Ted Oh, and caddie, Jonny Scott. She tied for 19th in her season debut.

    It’s time to be concerned. She was on pace to be one of the all-time greats, but now – whether because of insecurity or too much parental involvement, who knows – she has changed her entire team. Again.

    Ko said she deleted Twitter from her phone not because of the deluge of criticism she has received over the past year. No, more curiously, she said it was because she didn’t use the app that much and it was “taking up [too much] storage on my phone.”

    Uhh ... Ko has more than $8.5 million in career earnings, so obviously she could splurge for the 256 GB plan, and the app takes up less storage on a phone than Uber, anyway.

    Maybe she’ll get it turned around this year, but we’re not overly optimistic. There’s too much noise upstairs. 

    11. Just in time for the run-up to the Masters, Spieth’s putter is starting to heat up.

    On tricky greens for the second consecutive week, Spieth had another week with a positive strokes gained-putting statistic – and that’s a marked improvement from the start of the year. He tied for ninth at Riviera.

    “I just made some tremendous progress,” he said. “I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    12. Amateur swing coaches popped up everywhere as Patrick Cantlay appeared painfully slow during Sunday’s final round.

    On full shots, he shuffles his feet while looking at the target and waggling the clubhead. But over putts, he remains still with his upper body while doing the same dance routine.

    While putting on the 16th and 17th holes, he took six and seven looks at the cup, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, those putts did not drop. Playing in the final group, he shot 71 and finished three back.

    Is there something going on here?

    Cantlay’s first-round scoring average (67.67, second on Tour) is almost four shots lower than in his final rounds (71.13, 100th). He has broken 70 only once on Sunday – and that was in Vegas, where he won with a closing 67.  

    Cantlay has incredible potential, but this is just one example of smart golf people believing he’d be better suited with a quicker routine:

    Billy Hurley III put together one of the most epic campaign ads of all time, but did he release it too late?!


    That’s the only reasonable explanation for why Hurley wasn’t elected as the next Player Advisory Council chairman on the PGA Tour.

    Hurley’s ad went viral, logging more than 750,000 views on Twitter, but he released it the day before the election. Maybe most Tour players already cast their votes.

    Shame.

    Maybe next time, #GoldenMan.

    This week's award winners ... 


    Peaking For Augusta?: Phil Mickelson. Well, well, well, Phil recorded a third consecutive top-6 finish, the first time he’s done that in 11 years. One massive hurdle remains – putting together four good rounds for his first win in nearly five wins – but he’s absolutely getting closer.

    Count Yo’ Money: Kevin Na. With a runner-up at Riviera, the 34-year-old has now crossed $25 million in earnings despite notching just one win in his Tour career.

    Changes Coming?: Augusta National’s fifth hole. Site plans were filed last month that show the 445-yard par 4 could be pushed back another 25 to 30 yards, the Augusta Chronicle reported. It’s a short- to mid-iron approach right now, but we’d rather see them address the severe undulations on the green.   



    Nice Goin’, Rook: Jin Young Ko. She went wire to wire to win in her first start as an LPGA member, at the Australian Open. She’s just the second to accomplish the feat, joining Beverly Hanson (1951). Of course, the 22-year-old Ko also won last fall, but at the time she wasn’t an official member. The check still cleared, though. 

    Stay Hot: Joost Luiten. He made 21 birdies in his last 54 holes to hold off Chris Wood and win the European Tour event in Oman.

    Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Paul Casey. Seemed an easy pick, after a playoff loss at Riviera in 2015 and after recording a tie for eighth at Pebble that was his 12th top-20 in his last 13 starts. Instead, he needed to birdie his final hole to make the cut on the number, then continued to tread water on the weekend, eventually finishing 49th. Sigh.