After injury, Pettersen's Solheim role changes

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2017, 9:15 pm

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – This Solheim Cup seemed fated to begin and end with Suzann Pettersen.

The first tee is always wild in this event, with its boisterous traditions, from the patriotic celebrations to the creative chants, but Pettersen’s arrival this year promised to make it more awkward in its edgy, nervy and chaotic welcome to the week’s drama.

Nobody quite knew what we should expect when Pettersen stepped to the first tee Friday in foursomes, her first time back on American soil as a European in the Solheim Cup since that furor broke out in Germany two years ago.

Booing?

Heckling?

Or a polite and respectful welcome?

For better or worse, Pettersen’s introduction on the first tee ranked as one of the most anticipated moments of this women’s golf season.

“I hope they don’t heckle her,” U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster said Monday. “I hope they respect her and respect her play.”

We won’t know what Friday would have brought.

And we won’t know how Pettersen would have handled the weight of this challenge.

We’ll never know.

The script’s torn to pieces.

With Pettersen’s withdrawal Wednesday with a back injury, this Solheim Cup goes in search of new theater, new heros and anti-heros.

Pettersen was a scriptwriter’s dream, because she was all of that. She was Europe’s hero, America’s anti-hero. Her shoulders seemed broad enough, her will fierce enough to carry that kind of weight.


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Team records: United States | Europe


“I don’t think anything really affects Suzann,” Inkster said before hearing news of Pettersen’s withdrawal. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”

It’s difficult to imagine that somehow, deep down, Pettersen might be relieved. There will be some folks who suspect that, but it doesn’t fit her M.O.

Pettersen, who said she slipped a disc in her back while running last weekend back in her Norwegian homeland, was asked if she was worried about getting a hostile reception on the first tee.

“No,” she said. “Very disappointed not to play, obviously. To be able to play for the crowds they say we are going to have this weekend, it’s probably going to be the biggest crowds we’ve ever had.”

Now that’s quintessential Pettersen.

Catriona Matthew is replacing her. Matthew is no slouch at 47. The Scot also gets a huge dose of the credit for helping the Euros turn themselves around against the Americans. She’s 15-10-8 in these matches. She was 3-1 in Germany as a 45-year-old.

Now Pettersen takes Matthew’s place as a vice captain. There’s some tiny consolation in that, in the notion that it will help prepare Pettersen to be a captain someday. She’ll bring everything to the captain’s job that she brought as a player.

European captain Annika Sorenstam told Pettersen Wednesday to grab a headset.

“You might change your mind once I start speaking,” Pettersen told her.

“OK, I’m going to mute you,” Sorenstam cracked.

Somehow, some way, you know Pettersen will still be trying to figure out some way to help the Euros win this week.

Even before she was at the center of the controversy that ignited in Germany two years ago, when American Alison Lee scooped up an 18-inch putt she thought the Euros conceded, a mistake that thrust Pettersen into the middle of a firestorm, Pettersen was the face of the European effort.

Pettersen was Europe’s heart and soul.

She was such a large part of Europe turning these biennial matches to its advantage, with the upset in Ireland six years ago, and with the record rout in Colorado four years ago, Europe’s first victory on American soil.

Pettersen, 36, made the Solheim Cup more competitive and more dramatic.

“Suzann is always one of the thorns in the side of the Americans,” Morgan Pressel said in Germany.

This Solheim Cup won’t be quite the same without her. She’s 16-11-6 in these matches. Nobody teeing it up this week has won more Solheim Cup matches on the European or American side.

Nobody teeing it up this week has won more points (19) in the Solheim Cup.

“It made me really sad,” American Michelle Wie said of the Pettersen news. “I don't remember a Solheim without Suzann in it. She has always been such a big part of the European team. I remember going against her, being really good friends, always. They were matches you knew were going to get intense, were going to be really fun.”

That’s why this week won’t be the same without Pettersen inside the ropes.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


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There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''