Notes British Open Solheim Cup US Drought
Gone are the days when tour pros from around the world had to travel to Britain the weekend before the Open and walk the fairways alongside players who had dreams, but not pedigree.
Now, there are 25 ways for a tour pro to get into the British Open without leaving home.
That includes four exemptions for top finishers at the Mizuno Open in Japan, two from a special money list in Japan, two from a special money list on the PGA Tour, and the highest finisher not already eligible at three PGA Tour events leading up to the British Open. Spots also are given to the Japan Open and Canadian Open champions.
When the dust settles, only about 56 spots are awarded to those who compete in 36-hole qualifiers -- 44 of those going to 'International Final Qualifying' held in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States.
'We feel we have a good balance, in particular a good international balance,' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. 'Our exemption criteria covers overseas tours that the U.S. Open doesn't. We believe we're reaching out to the players.'
The U.S. Open now has overseas qualifying in Japan (three spots available) and Europe (eight spots). Michael Campbell came out of the European qualifier before winning last year at Pinehurst No. 2, and he might not have come to America to try for a spot in the field.
USGA executive director David Fay considered adding more spots overseas, but didn't want the U.S. Open to become a closed shop.
'You run up against numbers,' Fay said last week at Newport Country Club. 'They (British Open) get 2,100 or 2,200 entries. We're pushing 9,000 entries. We want to retain the openness of the Open. We have more than half the field come through qualifying.'
Almost half, anyway. The U.S. Open field included 76 players who had to qualify, including 26 who went through 18-hole local qualifying and 36-hole sectional qualifying. That amounts to 49 percent of its field.
The British Open will end up with only 56 players from 36-hole qualifiers, or 36 percent of the field.
'We think we run the most democratic golf tournament in the world,' Fay said. 'If you have the ability, you can give it a shot.'
There's room for only a dozen of those dreamers next week at local final qualifying in England, although Dawson is comfortable with how the British Open establishes its field. It's the oldest championship in golf, one known worldwide simply as 'The Open.'
'We think there are a lot of very good golfers in far-flung parts of the world,' Dawson said. 'They may not be known because they don't play in the States, but we like the Open to be an international event.'
When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused the Ryder Cup to be postponed and moved to even-numbered years, the Solheim Cup felt its best option was to move away from the men's event to odd-numbered years.
Now there's another scheduling conflict.
The Solheim Cup already has been set for Sept. 14-16 in Sweden, typically a slow part of the golf season.
But then the PGA Tour revamped and tightened its schedule around the new FedEx Cup, which will end Sept. 14-16 with the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
Should the LPGA Tour consider moving the matches back a week? Not this time.
'We did look at it,' said Chris Higgs, chief operations officer for the LPGA Tour. 'The good and bad thing about the Swedes is they are so well prepared. As soon as it was announced in 2003, they were asking us to confirm dates.'
Higgs said too many plans were in place for Sept. 14-16 for the Solheim Cup to change the dates now. He noted that because of the time difference, the Solheim Cup will be over before the final round of the Tour Championship begins.
Still, one of the tournaments will lose coverage it might have otherwise had.
Higgs said the Solheim Cup likely will move in 2009, when it is played at Rich Harvest Farm outside Chicago. One date the LPGA Tour is considering is the week after the PGA Championship, which is the week before the FedEx Cup playoff system begins.
The LPGA Tour is perhaps the most global circuit in golf, a point proven in the majors.
Annika Sorenstam's playoff victory Monday in the U.S. Women's Open made it eight consecutive majors won by international players, extending the longest U.S. drought in history. The last American winner was Meg Mallon at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open.
And there's no evidence the streak will end anytime soon.
Americans have won only four of the last 25 majors, a short list that includes the 43-year-old Mallon, 46-year-old Juli Inkster and Hilary Lunke, who hasn't had a top 20 on the LPGA Tour since winning the '03 U.S. Women's Open.
The best hope appears to be Michelle Wie, a senior-to-be in high school who has finished in the top five at five of the last six majors.
Sahalee Country Club had the 2010 PGA Championship taken away from it when PGA of America officials wanted to lock up Whistling Straits in a long-term deal. And while PGA officials promised Sahalee another 'championship,' the Seattle club appears to be going in another direction.
USGA executive director David Fay confirmed that Sahalee is interested in hosting a U.S. Senior Open. The first opening on the schedule for a U.S. Senior Open would be 2010, which might be a more than a little coincidental.
Not only did Fay say that he likes the Pacific Northwest, 'there's a well-known player with roots in Seattle who is getting to the age he might be able to play.'
Fred Couples would be eligible for his first Senior Open in 2010.
Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie are the only players to finish in the top 10 at all three LPGA Tour majors this year. ... Watching the final group inside the ropes in the final round of the Women's Open was Sandra Gal, a 21-year-old German who attends Florida. She missed the cut in her first Women's Open, then stuck around to watch how the leaders went about their business. ... USGA executive director David Fay says he has suggested that the British Open use Oakland Hills for its U.S. qualifier next year. ... The top three players for LPGA Tour player of the year are separated by nine points -- Lorena Ochoa (148), Sorenstam (140) and Karrie Webb (139).
STAT OF THE WEEK
Annika Sorenstam made only three bogeys on the back nine during five rounds of the U.S. Women's Open.
'I'm seeing a different part of the golf course again, and this part is a lot prettier.' -- Annika Sorenstam, on hitting more fairways.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.