Love, Olazabal will be lauded or loathed Sunday

By Jay CoffinSeptember 25, 2012, 10:40 pm

MEDINAH, Ill. – Captains are either heroes or goats. It goes with the territory.

When someone signs up to lead a team – especially one as significant as the Ryder Cup – they know every move will be scrutinized. If a previously successful pairing teams together to play poorly, it’s the captain’s fault. If the Sunday singles lineup works, it was perfectly crafted. If it fails, it was a miserable strategy.

There is no middle ground.

When history is made here Sunday at Medinah and the 39th Ryder Cup is in the books, how will Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal be remembered as captains?

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Can Love rally the troops and instill unity into a group that often has been accused of being selfish? Can the non-confrontational man make a difficult decision to sit a player if it means an ego could be bruised? With bigger names like Fred Couples and Michael Jordan surrounding the team, will Love even receive proper credit if the Americans are victorious?

As for Olazabal, can he channel the late Seve Ballesteros and use that Spanish machismo to be the ultimate leader of men? How will he use Martin Kaymer, the one-time stud who has turned out to be the weakest link for Europe? How will the Europeans react to the partisan American gallery?

Looking at past Ryder Cups there seemingly always is an indication of how the week will unfold for a captain.

Let’s start with the bad. Hal Sutton thought he was a genius in 2004 when he paired Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson in the first two sessions on Day 1 at Oakland Hills. They lost both matches and the U.S. got smoked 18 1/2 to 9 1/2.

“I’m not too worried about being second-guessed because this whole world is about second-guessing,” Sutton said on the eve of the Woods-Mickelson debacle. “Everybody else has got the answer but nobody’s been walking in these shoes.”

That same week, European captain Bernhard Langer was the difference maker. The steely German had always been known to give a monotone interview but he shed that stereotype and charmed the American gallery by insisting his squad sign autographs for at least 20 minutes each day. The fans appreciated the gesture and never were a major factor in favor of the U.S. In fact, they almost seemed thrilled Europe won.

Corey Pavin was the fall guy for the leaky rain gear two years ago in Wales. That surely wasn’t the sole reason why his squad lost, but that – combined with his failure to inspire his team – led to his downfall. Even before the rain gear issue, Pavin forgot to introduce Stewart Cink as one of his team members at the opening ceremony. Too many gaffes.

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All these incidents seem petty, but each foreshadows a sign of what’s to come.

Curtis Strange’s American team was tied at 8 heading into Sunday singles in 2002 at The Belfry but he put Mickelson and Woods in the last two positions and they were irrelevant because Europe jumped out to a hot start and won the cup by 3 points.

Paul Azinger is known for his well-documented pods system where he put his players together in small groups to form tight bonds and become invested. Each player was paired only with someone from his respective pod all week. The result was the only U.S. Ryder Cup victory in the last 13 years.

Ballesteros took the captain position to a new level in 1997 at Valderrama when he willed his team to victory and never envisioned a scenario where Europe would not win his beloved Ryder Cup in his native Spain. Europe took a 5-point lead into Sunday singles and easily won although the score ended much closer than the matches really were. Seve captained the Ryder Cup like he played in the Ryder Cup.

So far neither Love nor Olazabal has had the sort of moment that would predict success or disaster. That’s a good thing.

Love is a smart man who has listened diligently to past captains and drawn upon his own experience as a player who collected a 9-12-5 career record in six Ryder Cups. He distinctly remembers playing in his first Ryder Cup in 1993 when Tom Watson was captain. Watson never told any of the players who they were going to play with before the matches. That made Love uneasy and he made it clear that wouldn’t be the case with this squad.

“Familiarity is key,” Love said.

There are egos to deal with on the American side but Love also made it clear that each player will play at least three matches and that it’s likely that no player will play in all five matches. He wants players fresh.

“We’ve got some guys on this team that realize the ultimate goal is to win, not to play five and be 5-0,” Love said.

Olazabal was asked Tuesday if he was going to bring any guest speakers into the team room Thursday evening to set the mood and rally his troops.

“You would have to have a guy that really knows what the Ryder Cup is to get into the hearts of those players,” Olazabal said. “So, in that regard, I never thought of anyone that could really get to the guys that way.”

Good point. Olazabal is that man.

A veteran of seven Ryder Cups with an 18-8-5 career record, Olazabal was 11-2-2 with Ballesteros as his playing partner, earning them the “Spanish Armada” nickname. Olazabal’s friendship with the late Ballesteros was so strong that Seve’s silhouette is emblazoned on the bags of Team Europe.

Both Love and Olazabal seem to be at peace and have a game plan for most situations. All the proper buttons have been pushed to this point, but there are still two more days of hype before the matches begin.

We don’t know the ultimate result, but we do know that one man will be a hero, the other a goat.

Click to check out Golf Channel's and NBC Sports' Ryder Cup coverage.

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.