Mallon in charge with U.S. squad united behind her

By Jay CoffinAugust 14, 2013, 6:52 pm

PARKER, Colo. – Few people love a good party more than U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon.

Yet it was Mallon, of all people, who kept a Solheim Cup victory celebration from breaking out back in 2005 at Crooked Stick.

“I sure was a buzz kill for that party,” Mallon said Wednesday at Colorado Golf Club. “That was a bummer.”

An hour after Mallon drained a 6-foot putt to beat Karen Stupples and assure the Americans possession of the Solheim Cup, she was on a gurney in the back of an ambulance being transported to an Indianapolis hospital with a heart rate of nearly 300 beats per minute.

Mallon vividly recalls Europe’s Sophie Gustafson peering through the back of the ambulance with tears in her eyes. She remembers seeing U.S. teammate Natalie Gulbis standing there too, while medics discussed using electric paddles to jolt her heart back into rhythm.

The Americans then went to visit with the media to discuss their victory, but found it understandably difficult to speak while not knowing the status of their fallen friend. Captain Nancy Lopez, an emotional person anyway, struggled to find words. Mallon’s longtime friend Juli Inkster served as the team spokesperson.

It was as surreal of a scene as you’ll see in golf.

Ultimately Mallon was released from the hospital three days later diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, a rhythm disturbance that causes a rapid heartbeat. Mallon says the event was a blessing because a misdiagnosed heart condition for the previous 20 years was finally remedied.

Video: Americans trying to win back Solheim Cup

Solheim Cup: Articles, videos and photos

Still, that was the last Solheim Cup Mallon ever played. And it was bittersweet.

The Massachusetts native was an assistant captain on a victorious 2009 team outside Chicago, but now, with 18 LPGA victories, four major championships and an impressive 13-9-7 career Solheim Cup record, Mallon is fully in charge of her own team.

Granted a meaningful shot has not been struck so far at Colorado Golf Club, but, by most indications, Mallon has made all the right moves.

The first came immediately after Mallon was named captain 18 months ago when she welcomed Dottie Pepper back into the American Solheim Cup fold. Pepper had been blacklisted ever since 2007 when she made critical comments on what she believed was a closed television microphone. The mic, however, was open for the whole world to hear her criticize an American duo that had failed to close out a crucial match.

“People just needed to talk,” Mallon said. “That’s all I did was just facilitate that. It was, for me, seven years later, I thought it was silly that it was still going on. It was just a matter of getting them to come together and say ‘you know, listen, that was silly, let’s move on.’ ”

“I’m happy that’s happened. I wasn’t surprised that it has, and it’s good to have her around.”

Said Stacy Lewis: “(Meg) was the only person I think that could bring everybody together and Dottie’s been great. She’s got so much knowledge of the game and so much experience you can just kind of, you can rub off of her and you can learn a lot from her.”

The next tough choice came in making captain’s picks, although Mallon contends the decision really wasn’t as difficult as some believe.

Michelle Wie’s name immediately jumped off the page because of her Solheim Cup experience and 4-3-1 career record. Mallon knew some would criticize the selection but she never wavered. She wanted Wie on this team.

Gerina Piller’s selection was a gut feeling. Sure this is Piller’s first Solheim Cup but she’s 28 years old, a late bloomer and has several good friends already on the squad to help show her the ropes. Mallon loved the fit to round out her team.

“I got a great suggestion from (former U.S. Ryder Cup captain) Curtis Strange last week that said ‘you always trusted your gut and your instincts when you played golf. You should do the same thing as a captain’ ” Mallon said. “That was excellent advice because it was exactly what happened to me on Sunday when I made the picks.”

Mallon and her squad do face extreme pressure. No European team has ever won on American soil, and Mallon doesn’t want that streak to end on her watch.

Only three Americans have won on the LPGA this year (Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis and Jennifer Johnson) and Johnson is not on this team.

There are four rookies on Team USA, which seems like a lot, until you look at the European roster and see six rookies. Lexi Thompson (18) and Jessica Korda (20) are two of those rookies. How will their youth handle the pressure of the team format?

Lewis and Paula Creamer both lost in Sunday singles two years ago in Ireland, which set the tone for a European victory. How will they respond this time?

Can Wie deal with the pressure of being a captain’s pick? Will she be able to make a crucial 5-footer in crunch time?

All are questions that will be answered here, outside the Mile High City, over the next few days. If the heavily-favored Americans win, Mallon will be credited. If they lose, well, she’ll take her share of the blame. Such is life as a captain in a team event.

One thing is certain, this team loves Mallon and is united behind her every move. Admittedly, that’s the battle cry at most cups, but you get the sense that this week it’s the truth.

“Meg was always one of those players I idolized growing up,” Kerr said. “She just had such a beautiful golf swing and a beautiful way about her around the golf course and off the golf course.

“I think everybody on this team really admires her and respects her. When she speaks you listen.”

Said Lewis: “Meg’s the best. She’s taken care of us this week. She’s made it relaxed and easy and she’s been very clear about what she wants to do.

“Overall it’s just been really good.”

Hopefully for Mallon, it’ll be good enough to end the week with a celebration. If so, you can count on her to be the life of the party.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Getty Images

J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

Getty Images

Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

Getty Images

Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.