Too many qualified candidates for 2014 Euro Ryder Cup captain

By Jason SobelOctober 23, 2012, 2:00 pm

So there’s this boy – let’s call him Paul – who is in love with a girl. He’s like your prototypical nice guy from the movies. Helps her with homework. Listens to her problems. Gets her home safely when she’s had too much to drink.

Paul is infatuated with this girl. He knows her favorite color. Makes her a new mix tape every week. The guy’s even written sappy poetry about her.

So what’s the problem? She still only sees him as a friend. Anytime they’ve discussed the possibility of a relationship, he offers up those puppy dog eyes only to have her look right into them and like a knife to the heart proclaim, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”

There’s another boy – let’s call him Darren – who is falling for this girl, too. He just has a different way of showing it.

Darren is one of the cool kids. Walks cool, talks cool, wears cool shades. Everybody swoons over him and the girl has started to take notice and do some swooning of her own.

And why wouldn’t she? He’s the proverbial life of the party, the kind of boy who has a good time wherever he goes. They’ve recently started spending more time together and, well, she’s starting to think this could be a long-term type of thing.

All of which leads to the question I know you’re dying to ask: What does any of this have to do with golf?

The answer: Everything. Because Paul is Paul McGinley and Darren is Darren Clarke – and the girl is the 2014 European Ryder Cup captaincy.

And yes, someone could easily make a cheesy ‘80s film about the flirtations and dalliances that McGinley and Clarke have made toward being the next man in charge of the European squad that will defend its title at Gleneagles.

Prior to the historic come-from-behind win at Medinah a few weeks ago, it was believed that McGinley was in the driver’s seat for the role. He served as vice captain two years ago at Celtic Manor and again this time, reporting directly to Jose Maria Olazabal.

That gives him an impressive 2-0 record as an assistant, but his resume hardly ends there. McGinley was 3-0 as a Ryder Cup competitor, helping the team to victories in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 editions of the event, where he compiled a 2-2-5 overall record. He also played for the winning side twice in the Royal Trophy and twice in the Seve Trophy, then twice served as captain in the latter for the GB&I team and – you got it – won them both.

Add ‘em all up and that’s an 11-0 record for all major professional international team competitions in which he’s been involved. Not too shabby.

McGinley may not own the playing pedigree of other captains – he has just four career European Tour wins and has never finished better than sixth place in a major championship – but he has the respect of every player who has competed alongside him.

That’s not to say Clarke doesn’t, though. After likewise serving as vice captain for Olazabal this year, his stock began to soar – so much so that last year’s Open Championship winner took to Twitter to deny claims that he had already been offered the job.

'To clarify..I have not been offered the Ryder Cup captaincy,' he tweeted on Oct. 10. 'It's not decided by the committee until January. Would be a huge honour if asked.'

Why is Clarke suddenly surging ahead like the European team on Sunday at Medinah? The prevailing feeling is that the girl whom everybody wants is most attracted to the cool guy who has a good time wherever he goes.

Even some major players acknowledge those traits.

“He's a major champion, a very good public speaker, which has to be taken into account,” Lee Westwood recently told reporters. '[He's] tactically very astute. Darren has a lot of things going for him.'

In offering up a comparison between the two candidates, Westwood added, 'Paul has played three [Ryder Cups], Darren has played five and got a major championship and won a lot more tournaments than Paul. You have to have a criteria somewhere and I think Darren just edges it for me.'

The truth is, each man vying for that girl’s affection can make a case for why he should be the one to win her over. In due time, she may be with each of them, but there are many other potential suitors knocking at her door, too.

Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez – each of whom also served as an assistant under Olazabal – are among candidates for the open position, and others aren’t too far away from throwing their hats into the ring, either.

'I think these two [Clarke and McGinley] deserve a chance, but I think Thomas deserves a chance and also Paul Lawrie,' Olazabal said after winning. 'Once those guys do it, we have Lee [Westwood] and Padraig [Harrington].'

Hey, a girl’s got a reputation to uphold. She can’t be with every boy in town.

Therein lies the biggest problem for the European Tour’s tournament committee, which will ultimately make the decision.

While the American side rips a page from “The Fugitive” – looking in every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse for a man who can lead its team to victory – the reigning champion apparently has too many qualified candidates. What it means is that much like Larry Nelson and Mark O’Meara have never captained a U.S. team, worthy European skippers will likely see their opportunities vanish for no good reason at all, other than somebody else beating them out for the job.

As for this time around, only one boy will get the girl. It’s starting to look like the cool guy is winning her over, potentially leaving the lovelorn nice guy with a broken heart once again.

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 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 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.