Its Plan B for Americas Lehman

By George WhiteAugust 22, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesA pessimist would probably say that it makes absolutely no difference whom Tom Lehman picked to fill out the U.S. Ryder Cup ' these guys arent going to win, anyway. But an optimist would look at Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank and say, hey, these guys are a possible difference in America winning and losing.
 
Lehman admitted what is painfully obvious Monday - that his stated goal of picking players who have lots of wins wasnt an option this year. And it wasnt an option because he just didnt have too many Americans who have won this year. So Lehman had to go to alternative No. 2 ' get a couple of guys who are good chippers and putters, and, secondarily, men who have experience in the Ryder Cup arena.
 
A sermon from this corner explained why the Americans should not be considered favorites this year. The last couple of months have not been kind to most of the Yanks. Ergo, Lehmans choices were made excruciatingly difficult because there were no clear-cut selections.
 
Jerry Kelly? Davis Love? Maybe a John Daly or a veteran like Corey Pavin? Fred Couples? Lucas Glover or Tim Herron or maybe Shaun Micheel?
 
But as much as all of these men have characteristics that probably would have made them acceptable, none had talents that would have made them stand out. Cink and Verplank have their faults, but Lehman decided to pick them because they give him what he needs most from this squad ' day-in and day-out, a gutty, solid performance.
 
Cink would have made the team under the old format. Its a little disheartening to say that he was chosen because he had a lot of finishes that were in the 20-30 range, but thats what has happened. And the last two months he has performed pretty steadily, finishing T5 in the Buick Championship, T5 in the International, and T4 in the Cialis Western.
 
Verplank? Because of the diabetes which he has battled his entire career, you can never be sure just how hes going to play. But when he has been close to healthy, he has played pretty consistently. This year he had the double whammy of playing with a shoulder injury much of the season, eventually dropping out of the EDS Byron Nelson.
 
But he is third among the PGA Tour players in putting this year, and sixth in scrambling, which primarily measures the ability to chip it close. He doesnt hit it far at all ' hes currently 187th in driving distance. But the Ryder Cup venue, The K Club in Ireland, isnt overbearingly long, either. An inability to drive it long wont be particularly painful.
 
Cink led the tour in putting as late as 2004, and this year he has been pretty consistent, though he stands just 59th. He stands 18th on the scrambling rankings.
 
The point is, you could put either player with anyone else on the team and he would certainly be acceptable.
 
With four rookies on the team, Lehman could just not afford to gamble on a what-if or a maybe. Maybe Kelly would pick the week of September 18-24 to have his career performance. Maybe Glover would, or Love would rebound and play like he used to five years ago. But Lehman, unfortunately, does not have the luxury of finding out. Therefore, he had to go with two guys who maybe dont have that upside potential, but then they dont have the downside, either.
 
One oddity here ' in 2001 (the matches were played in 2002), Verplank was Curtis Stranges wildcard pick at the expense of one Tom Lehman. Lehman, who had a 5-3-2 record and was 3-0 in singles, was in the top10 for most of the year. But an injury knocked him out late in the year, and he missed the cut in the PGA. Strange picked Verplank, the first time in history that a rookie was U.S. wild-card pick, and Paul Azinger and left out Lehman.
 
Verplank rewarded Strange by going 2-1, including a win in singles against Lee Westwood. And now, Lehman himself puts the finger on Verplank.
 
Now, Lehman will take this American squad to Ireland. What is there to be optimistic about? Not much, if you look at the American players and what they have done this year. Not much, if you consider they will be opposed by Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal, Padraig Harrington, maybe Thomas Bjorn or Lee Westwood or Darren Clarke.
 
But all is not well in the European camp, either. Some of the Euros have been struggling of late. Clarke recently lost his wife after a lengthy illness. Westwood has not been particularly impressive, and neither has Miguel Angel Jimenez, all of whom were counted on to play big Ryder Cup roles at the start of the season.
 
This American team, as a matter of fact, looks a whole lot like what the Europeans have been throwing up against us the past 10 years or so. For Lehmans sake, Cink and Verplank have to think that, too.
 
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  • Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.