Captain Koch prepared for more Solheim Cup success

By Jay CoffinSeptember 17, 2015, 4:52 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Carin Koch earned a master’s degree in Ryder Cup philosophy last year in Scotland.

The European Solheim Cup captain was a VIP guest of Paul McGinley at Gleneagles and was given behind-the-scenes access to each move the dynamic European Ryder Cup captain made; Every impassioned speech, all team meetings, the reasoning for pairings and lineups, everything that helped deliver Europe a 16 ½ to 11 ½ beat down of the Americans.

“Just learning how he worked with his team and his preparation,” Koch said, “yeah, it's just been good having the help of the past captains like that.”

Said McGinley: “She has been open to learning and asking questions in the past two years from many sources knowing what to filter as it relates to her task as captain. She’s gathered a lot of information and worked very hard, the players know that. It will give them confidence in their leader that she’s prepared.”

Koch has been hesitant to discuss details about everything she learned from that experience but it’s clear McGinley’s help was invaluable. It’s impossible for it not to have been.

Truth is, though, even without McGinley’s guidance, Koch has all the tools necessary to deliver Europe its third consecutive Solheim Cup victory.

Nearly everything Koch has touched in the Solheim Cup has turned to gold. In 2000 at Loch Lomond, she was a captain’s pick and a rookie who fought back from a 3-down deficit in singles against Michele Redman to win the match and clinch the Solheim Cup. The U.S. had won the three previous Solheim Cups and this European victory was a key to keeping the matches historically relevant.

Two years later in Minnesota, Europe lost, but Koch went 4-0-1 and was the sole reason why her team took a 9-7 advantage heading into Sunday singles. The Americans won 8 ½ points in singles to win the cup, but Koch was as dominant as any player has ever been on a losing team.

Koch didn’t play particularly well in 2003 in her native Sweden (1-2-1) but Europe did not need her help and won handily. Again, in 2005, Koch was 2-1-1 in a losing effort.

Granted, Koch was paired with Annika Sorenstam on five occasions during her four appearances and they went 4-1 together, but still, Koch is 10-3-3 in her Solheim Cup career as a player.

On the administrative side, Koch was an assistant captain to her Swedish role model Liselotte Neumann two years ago outside Denver when Europe delivered the biggest thrashing in Solheim Cup history. It marked the first time that the U.S. lost on home soil.

You get the point. Koch is much more than just a pretty face.


Photos: Carin Koch through the years

“She’s experienced on and off the course in Solheim’s and know what works from both angles,” McGinley said. “She believes in not reinventing the wheel.”

Although the Europeans have won the last two Solheim Cup they still arrive here on home soil as underdogs. Their collective world ranking is much lower than the U.S. and some of their key players from two years ago (Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, in particular) are not playing well.

However, one advantage Koch has is that she can look at her team and see numerous successful pairings from the last two victorious cups. She sent out her two top-ranked players in Friday’s first foursomes match. Suzann Pettersen and Anna Nordqvist are 2-0 together and they’re facing Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer, who has struggled most of the year.

Nearly every European player has said they don’t care who they play with, that they’re happy to play with whomever Koch feels is the best fit. Players usually say that in these team events but you get the feeling that it happens to be true with this European team.

Koch, 44, has long been known as one of the friendliest players on the LPGA and you won’t find one person, no matter which country they’re from, that has a negative word to say about her. She genuinely has a kind soul. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a raging fire in her belly to stomp the Americans into the ground for the third straight time.

It’s no surprise that, so far, Koch has managed every detail to perfection. She surrounded herself with three Swedish assistant captains (Sorenstam, Sophie Gustafson, Maria McBride) who make a formidable team and her captain’s picks (Hedwall, Karine Icher, Caroline Masson, Catriona Matthew) were players who are past Solheim Cup stalwarts and ones she believe will best fit her team strategy.

This is Koch’s team. She’s going to do things her way.

“I think you change as you go along a little bit with the people that are around you,” Koch said. “But I think my plan from the start, it’s my captaincy, I want to be myself and do what I can for the team and that hasn’t really changed.”

Koch downplays her role as a captain saying her top priority is “to create that atmosphere in the team room that we’ve always had and just to have fun together and make sure they focus on the job that needs to be done.”

They’ll be focused, they’ll have fun, they’ll be united and, win or lose, they’ll play well for their captain.

“She's a likeable, charismatic, nice person who people believe and will play for,” McGinley said.

Sounds familiar.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.