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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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.