Gustafson carries bag, helps lift Allen to LET win

By Randall MellJuly 6, 2015, 7:33 pm

Sophie Gustafson blurted out her frustration to friends.

Gustafson, Felicity Johnson and Beth Allen were sitting in a bar in Hainan, China, consoling each other after all three missed the cut this spring at the World Ladies Championship on the Ladies European Tour.

“I’m not sure I want to do this anymore,” Gustafson told them.

Shooting 80 and 81 in China were hard numbers for Gustafson, who was the Ladies European Tour Player of the Year three times and competed on eight European Solheim Cup teams. She won 16 LET events and five LPGA titles, but she has been struggling as a player for a few years now. Knowing how Gustafson loves the game, Johnson and Allen asked what she would do if she weren’t playing.

“I’ve always wanted to caddie, so maybe I’ll do that,” Gustafson, 41, told them.

Allen, an American playing the LET, piped up immediately. She told Gustafson she would gladly hire her. Little did they know they would win the first time they actually teamed up.

When Allen, 34, won the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters Sunday for her first LET title, Gustafson was on her bag.

“Caddying for Beth was great fun,” Gustafson wrote in email exchange with “She hit it so good! I could just call the shots and she would hit them.”

Gustafson said Allen patiently waited until Gustafson was actually ready to become her caddie. It proved worth the wait for both of them.

“I have to say that not one time did I wish it was me hitting the shot,” Gustafson wrote. “It was nice being in the action without having my heart outside my chest. I was so much more relaxed being on the bag than being the one hitting the shots. Not that I wasn't nervous. I was towards the end, but nothing like I was when I was playing. Being able to help her out and get her over the line was really satisfying. Giving her tidbits of inside Sunday afternoon knowledge was real fun, and then to see her use that was even better.

“I know what a player feels and thinks in a situation like that, and I have a good idea what a player needs. I think it helped that Beth and I are a bit similar in our wording and humor, too.”

While the term courageous is too easily used to describe athletes, Allen and Gustafson qualify for what they’ve sacrificed or overcome. Allen donated a kidney to her brother, Dan, four years ago. Gustafson won the Golf Writers Association of America’s Ben Hogan Award for the manner in which she has battled a severe stutter while excelling in the game.

“She offered to help and she certainly did,” Allen said of Gustafson. “She definitely saved me some shots out there, and I’m so, so grateful that she offered to help.”

Gustafson is committed to help Allen for three more events, but she also continues to work on her own game.

“I'm going to work the Scottish, British and Prague (events), and then we'll see,” Gustafson wrote. “We obviously work well together, so I don't think that will be an issue, but I might want to play the Swedish tournament we have here on the LET in September. After that, who knows?

“I'm just taking it a little bit at a time right now. No reason to make a firm decision, I feel. If I feel I want to play again, I have that luxury being a life member on the LET. At the moment, I also have my all-time money status on the LPGA that I can use if I feel I want to come back there. If I do that, though, it's a commitment. The LPGA won't let you switch between being a player and caddie during the same year.”

Gustafson manages to find new ways to enjoy the game, even as she works through the challenges to her own game. She is a vice captain to Carin Koch for the Europeans at this year’s Solheim Cup. She has also been playing as a left-hander, just for fun, when she’s not working on her right-handed swing. Ping set Gustafson up with a left-handed set of clubs two years ago.

“I really enjoy it,” Gustafson said. “It's fun seeing the improvement. I'm down to a 20 handicap.”

For all the fans Gustafson has won over the years, there is delight seeing her find ways to continue to enjoy the game.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

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

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

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.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

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.