Europeans Wear the Underdog Label Well

By Associated PressSeptember 16, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Ryder CupBLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Don't look for Hal Sutton to repeat the classic introduction Ben Hogan gave during the flag-raising ceremony for the 1967 Ryder Cup.
 
'Ladies and gentlemen,' Hogan said solemnly, 'I present the American team - the 10 greatest golfers in the world.'
 
For one thing, there are now 12 golfers per side. For another, it would be farfetched for a U.S. captain of this generation to claim his team has a monopoly on the world's best players.
 
That said, the Americans find themselves in a familiar role. They are the clear favorites, with star power and major championships that can't be matched by the Europeans. The world rankings are more ammunition for those who expect Oakland Hills Country Club to be the scene of a red, white and blue celebration this weekend.
 
35th Ryder CupAnd this being the Ryder Cup, it doesn't mean a thing.
 
'Being underdogs doesn't mean we're going to lose,' European star Sergio Garcia said. 'Being underdogs means that on paper, they are better than us. You've just got to look at the world rankings. That definitely says something.'
 
Granted, the world rankings are a hodgepodge of complicated formulas, mind-numbing idiosyncrasies and questionable criteria that make the BCS look like a model of simplicity.
 
Even so, three Americans - No. 2 Tiger Woods, No. 4 Phil Mickelson and No. 6 Davis Love III - show up in the rankings before the first European, No. 8 Padraig Harrington, makes an appearance.
 
Five more U.S. players are in the top 20. Only three of Harrington's teammates can make such a claim. The lowest-rated American is No. 59 Fred Funk. The Europeans have four players at 60 and below.
 
Still need convincing? The Americans have 12 major titles on their respective mantels, eight of them won by Woods. No one on the European team has even one major victory, the first time that's happened since 1981.
 
'We have come into the matches as underdogs most of the time,' said Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, who has never lost a singles match at the Ryder Cup. 'I don't think this is any different. We're playing away from home and we're underdogs. We'll start that way and then, hopefully after about two hours, it might be different.'
 
If recent history is any indication, it's the Americans who are the decided underdogs.
 
Beginning in 1985, when Europe finally broke a 28-year drought, the guys from the other side of the Atlantic have won five times, halved another match to keep the Cup and lost only three matches.
 
Two years ago, the Europeans easily won - 15 1/2 points to 12 1/2 - with a lineup that, on paper at least, looked hopelessly outmatched by the U.S. firepower.
 
On the final day of singles, Montgomerie routed Scott Hoch, Harrington crushed Mark Calcavecchia, little-known Phillip Price easily beat Mickelson and Jesper Parnevik halved his match with Woods.
 
But singles isn't the European strength. They usually do their best work in the team portion - two rounds of alternate-shot and better-ball each of the first two days.
 
Only once in the last nine matches have the Americans been in the lead heading to the singles, leading to the perception that the United States has a collection of stars, the Europeans have a team.
 
That line of thinking was bolstered Wednesday when Mickelson took the day off, leaving the other 11 Americans to go through an 18-hole practice round with a pair of threesomes and an unwieldy fivesome.
 
The Europeans were grouped off in foursomes, all of them dutifully taking part. Even an American fan took note as Montgomerie, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and David Howell scurried around the 16th hole, trying to get a read on the steeply sloping green.
 
'I'd rather to go to the bar with those guys than anyone on the American team,' the spectator said.
 
Sutton said the show of individualism fits in with everything he's been preaching.
 
'Worry about yourself,' he said. 'If I get you to worry about you, and I get the best out of you, then it will come together as a team effort that could be brilliant.'
 
That's not the only change of pace.
 
Captains usually have a good idea about teams midway through the week and start putting those players together during practice so they can get comfortable with each other. Not Sutton, who is keeping his team in the dark until sometime before opening ceremonies Thursday.
 
The matches begin Friday morning.
 
'I told them I wasn't going to set the pairings for the practice rounds,' Sutton said. 'Be prepared to beat the other two guys by yourself, and if I give you a little help, that's a bonus. So they have no clue who they're going to play with. If they know who it is, they start worrying about their partner's game instead of worrying about their own game.'
 
Sutton is unlikely to reprise Hogan's brilliant touch of gamesmanship in 1967, which turned out to be right on the mark. The Americans romped to a 15-point victory, still the greatest margin in Ryder Cup history.
 
Sutton would gladly settle for a one-point victory.
 
Whatever it takes to get the Cup back on this side of the Atlantic.
 
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    Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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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. 

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    Rosaforte Report: Parkland tragedy weighs heavily on golf teams

    By Tim RosaforteFebruary 19, 2018, 4:00 pm

    Amanda Okulanis was on the Sawgrass side of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus on Thursday, away from the 1200 building that largely housed ninth-graders and where most of her 17 classmates were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

    For Okulanis, who could hear the shots while evacuating, the survivor’s remorse has already kicked in.

    “It could have been anyone of us,” said Okulanis, the captain and No. 1 player on the Stoneman Douglas girls’ golf team. “It was just timing and where you were.”

    Okulanis, 18, works part time in outside operations at Heron Bay GC and is a pro shop attendant at TPC Eagle Trace, not far away from Parkland in Coral Springs. She just returned from her second funeral on Sunday afternoon when we spoke. Among those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time was Cara Loughran, the 14-year-old daughter of Eagle Trace superintendent Damien Loughran. Cara’s brother, Liam, survived.

    “Both of the funerals I sat through today, both of their families spoke over and over again about their smiles and how they were the most amazing kids with unlimited potential,” Okulanis said. “And how they brought such happiness to this world.”


    Amanda Okulanis (center) and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas girls' golf team. (courtesy: Amanda Okulanis)


    As a Bright Futures Scholarship recipient, Okulanis will be attending the University of Central Florida in the fall and play club golf. She wants to become a CPA and work as a CFO for a large corporation or professional sports team.

    “She was a natural born leader,” said Devin Schaller, the girls’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas. “We had a young team and as the season went on she grew as a person and it really showed. She was the glue we needed.”

    Schaller, who teaches U.S. and world history, was evacuating students in the midst of the shooting, but was able to send out a group text. All his girls checked in, but some had been in Building 12, where most of the killings took place.

    “We’re all trying to be cohesive and moving forward in unison with one another,” said Schaller. “It’s just such a horribly unique experience.”

    The boys’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas had his own horrific experience. In addition to coaching golf and softball, Brian Staubley works as a security officer at SDH and was just outside the door where the shooter was reloading. He was ordered back just before another round of gunfire. He lost two friends and colleagues in the shooting.

    Among those Staubley led to safety in the school’s auditorium was Evan Kuperman, a 16-year-old sophomore on his fall team. Kuperman’s older sister was in the 1200 building and wasn’t responding to texts or calls for an hour after the shooting. She survived. You can imagine the impact that's had on his life and his family's.

    “My son, he’s been effected, like all the kids have been effected,’’ said his father, Craig.



    Kuperman (pictured above) started playing golf at 13. In short time, he has advanced past the local level in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, has won U.S. Kids tournaments and represented the Junior Golf Association in Broward County in state events. He also competes on the South Florida PGA Challenge and Championship tours.

    Thinking it would be therapy, Evan Kuperman went to the range at Parkland to hit balls on Friday.

    He signed up for a Gold Coast junior event in Miami on Sunday, put his clubs in his high school bag, and wore the team shirt in competition. Unable to concentrate, he withdrew after nine holes.

    On his Twitter feed, @Evankup13, Kuperman has tweeted with the hashtag #DouglasStrong. Motivated by Parkland recently named the safest city in Florida, he has not been shy about retweeting gun control messages.

    “It’s something no kid should go through,” he told me Monday morning. “There’s a Mahatma Gandhi quote when you walk into the front gates of the school that says, ‘Be the change you wish to see this world.’ It’s stuck to a lot of us.”

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    Watson back in top 40 after OWGR free fall

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Bubba Watson ended his free fall in the Official World Golf Ranking with a two-shot victory Sunday at the Genesis Open.

    Watson, a fixture in the top 10 in the world as recently as 13 months ago, had dropped all the way to 117th after a 2017 season in which he struggled with poor form, illness and desire.

    After his third career win at Riviera, he is up to 40th.

    Kevin Na rose from 95th to 65th after tying for second in Los Angeles, while Tony Finau jumped from 41st to 33rd.

    Tiger Woods actually improved in the world ranking, from No. 550 to No. 544, despite a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

    On the European Tour, Joost Luiten surged from 90th to 68th after his victory in Oman.

    The top 10 in the world remained unchanged as the PGA Tour heads into the Florida swing: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.

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    Bubba catapults, Phil creeps up in Ryder Cup standings

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 1:21 pm

    Bubba Watson was an assistant on the 2016 Ryder Cup team. He doesn’t want to be driving a cart in Paris.

    Watson, thanks to his victory in the Genesis Open, jumped from 60th to 10th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. The top eight after the PGA Championship qualify automatically for this year’s edition at Le Golf National in France.

    Phil Mickelson moved up one spot to 11th after tying for sixth at Riviera Country Club.

    Players will receive one point per dollar earned in regular events this year, with 1.5 points per dollar in majors and two points per dollar for winning a major. Here's a look at the current U.S. standings:

    1. Dustin Johnson

    2. Brooks Koepka

    3. Justin Thomas

    4. Jordan Spieth

    5. Matt Kuchar

    6. Brian Harman

    7. Gary Woodland

    8. Rickie Fowler

    ---

    9. Chez Reavie

    10. Bubba Watson

    11. Phil Mickelson

    12. Patrick Reed


    On the European side, the top four players from the Ryder Cup points list will be joined by the top four qualifiers from the world points list, with captain Thomas Bjorn making four additional selections. Here's a look at the current top names:

    Ryder Cup Points

    1. Justin Rose

    2. Tyrrell Hatton

    3. Ross Fisher

    4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

    World Points

    1. Jon Rahm

    2. Tommy Fleetwood

    3. Sergio Garcia

    4. Rory McIlroy