U.S. rises above controversy to win Solheim Cup

By Jay CoffinSeptember 20, 2015, 6:50 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Does the comeback ever happen without the controversy? It’s a key question that can never truly be answered although the two episodes forever will be linked.

Both the U.S. and Europe woke up early Sunday to complete three fourball matches at the Solheim Cup with the plan of moving quietly on to singles matches. That itinerary quickly came to a crashing halt.

Suzann Pettersen found herself smack in the middle of a nasty controversy that seemingly provided a huge spark to the Americans, resulting in one of the most interesting days in the history of women’s golf.

In the end, the U.S. staged a Brookline-type Ryder Cup effort by erasing a 10-6 deficit to win, 14½ to 13½, at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club. The Americans won 8½ of 12 singles points to record the biggest comeback in Solheim Cup history.

To think, four years ago, on the eve of Sunday singles in Ireland, many of the headlines screamed that the biennial matches were bordering on irrelevant. Europe staged a great comeback to win those matches, then dominated the Americans on U.S. soil two years ago to hand the red, white and blue a second consecutive defeat.

Now this.

With a crucial point up for grabs in the morning, Pettersen and Charley Hull were all square with Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome on the 17th hole. Lee missed an 8-footer for birdie to win the hole then scooped up the ball that was 18 inches past the hole. Pettersen contends that Lee’s putt wasn’t conceded and the Americans lost the hole, and ultimately, the match.

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Social media went berserk. Pettersen didn’t back down. It was ugly.

“It was very clear from Charley and me that we wanted to see the putt at the time of play,” Pettersen said. “With Alison being kind of the only one left of the two on the hole, that was clearly a putt we wanted to see.”

U.S. captain Juli Inkster was miffed.

“It’s just B.S. as far as I’m concerned,” Inkster said. “It’s just not right. It puts a damper on the whole thing.”

Lee, a 20-year-old Solheim Cup rookie, was caught in the crossfire and, although she did break a rule, she believes the whole situation was avoidable and insists she heard someone tell her the putt was conceded.

“Obviously I was really flustered,” she said. “I had a lot of different emotions going through my body. I was really disappointed, also, because I really wanted to make that point. Not because of what Suzann did, but because I thought Brittany (Lincicome) and I had played so well.”

Long-time European Solheim Cup stalwart Laura Davies, in Germany commentating for British television, did not mince words regarding her former teammate.

“She’s been very unsporting,” Davies said about Pettersen. “We’ve got the point, but they’ve got the moral high ground.

“She’s let herself down and certainly let her team down. I’m so glad I’m not on that team this time.”

Then, the Americans went on a tear that the previous 13 versions of the Solheim Cup have never seen.

When Anna Nordqvist beat Stacy Lewis, Europe had collected 13½ points and only needed another half point to retain the cup. Americans Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer each comfortably led their respective matches on the back nine.

Only the Gerina Piller-Caroline Masson match and the Angela Stanford-Suzann Pettersen match hung in the balance.

Piller made bogey on the 17th hole and took a 1-up advantage to the final hole. Masson, playing in her native Germany, hit her approach to 10 feet. Piller’s approach slid right of the green and into nasty, gnarly rough. Piller’s chip shot landed just inside Masson’s ball. Masson missed the birdie putt, Piller drained the par putt to earn a full point for the U.S. and the Solheim Cup still was up for grabs. If Masson makes her birdie, Europe retains.

“If I don’t make this, we lose,” Piller said. “As much as you practice it at home or as a kid, it’s just not the same, obviously. I just can’t believe I made that putt.”

Added Morgan Pressel: "Watching Gerina make that putt  the most clutch putt I've ever seen in my life on 18  just sent shock waves, I think, through our whole team and also to Team Europe."

Next up? Stanford vs. Pettersen: The ultimate test for the golf gods.

This was already a touchy match. There’s the aforementioned Pettersen controversy for starters. For Stanford, she’s struggled to play well in the Solheim Cup during her entire career and had a 3-13-3 record. She hadn’t won in her previous nine matches.

Stanford raced out to a 3-up lead, but she coughed it all up and the match was all square with three holes remaining. Stanford birdied 16 and 17 and closed out Pettersen, 2 and 1.

“At some point you think it’s bound to happen, right,” Stanford asked about her winless streak. “People kept telling me numbers, but it’s bound to happen. But it’s all because of these ladies. I kept thinking if they’ll just keep me in it, if they’ll just give me another chance and they did. Very happy to help today.”

Kerr ended her match with Charley Hull because of a ridiculous nine-hole stretch where she made eight birdies. Wie did the same against Caroline Hedwall and made eight birdies in 14 holes.

Creamer, the much-maligned captain’s pick, was the only American left on course, and it was only a matter of time before she ended her match against Sandra Gal. With the myriad stories of the day, it’s still fitting that it came down to Creamer to end the Solheim Cup.

The cup veteran had struggled with her game all summer and was battling confidence issues. But Inkster, Creamer’s longtime idol, picked Creamer for the team and even put her out first on Friday in foursomes with Pressel. They won that point. And Creamer sealed the deal for the Americans by winning the final match.

“I’m ready for people to stop asking me about a captain’s pick,” Creamer quipped. “I had my job. I had my role as much as we all did.”

In Pettersen, the Americans found motivation in a place they never expected to find. Whether it came from the desire to protect their innocent rookie (Lee), the craving to send Europe’s best player (Pettersen) home with her head down, the hunger to win the cup for the first time since 2009 or the sheer willingness to please Inkster, the Americans made history.

“Juli deserved this today and that’s all I can say,” Stanford said about her affable leader. “She is a class act. She deserved it.”

Said Inkster: “I think they were ready to go, but I also think (the Pettersen controversy) maybe just lit the fire a little bit more. I think in their bellies they wanted to just maybe do just a little bit more. And that little bit more got us the Solheim.”

Moments later, Inkster was pure Inkster. Funny, endearing, to the point. 

“I’m over it,” she said. “We got the cup.”

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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.