Eight countries battle for national pride in International Crown

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2016, 2:47 pm

GURNEE, Ill. – It’s the Solheim Cup’s alter ego.

Someday soon, however, the UL International Crown might overshadow its other half in women’s golf.

The second rendition of the International Crown begins Thursday at the Merit Club looking to build upon its promising start at Caves Valley outside Baltimore two years ago. The biennial international team event possesses the kind of nationalistic fervor that makes the Solheim Cup successful, but with the potential to make a greater impact. That’s because the Crown’s scale is so much larger as it encompasses the entire world of women’s golf.

With eight nations qualifying, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, where women’s golf is so much more popular than anywhere else in the world, this event’s reach goes far beyond the Solheim Cup’s. The LPGA will announce details this week of its plans to play the 2018 event in South Korea, where it promises to be embraced as a kind of Super Bowl of women’s golf.

With more nationalistic passion than what makes the Solheim Cup work, the Crown is only lacking in history.

Will the No. 1 seeded Koreans battle the second-seeded Americans to the end this year? That’s the kind of showdown that can quickly build a rivalry and escalate this event’s status. There are already roots for that rivalry. The Koreans eliminated the Americans from the inaugural International Crown, knocking the United States out in a playoff to see who advanced to Sunday singles as the wild card out of pool play. It was a big blow to the Americans, who were the top seeds in 2014.

Click here for all you need to know about the UL International Crown

UL International Crown: Articles, photos and videos

South Korea, playing under its Olympic designation as the Republic of Korea, joins the United States in the four-day team match-play event once again. Japan, Australia, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, England and China also qualified with four-woman teams.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko and No. 2 Brooke Henderson may not be in this week’s event with New Zealand and Canada failing to qualify, but seven of the top 10 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings will be competing, including Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Sei Young Kim, and In Gee Chun.

“We wanted to do something completely different,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said of the Crown’s addition to the schedule two years ago.

Whan, though, didn’t want to create a women’s version of the PGA Tour’s Presidents Cup.

“We wanted players to have a chance to play for country,” Whan said. “Forming a ‘Team Rest of the World’ is just hard to define.”

Whan wanted players competing under their own flags, and that simple concept proved a stroke of genius. It made all the difference in the world in stoking interest in the new event.

While the Presidents Cup feels coldly contrived, the International Crown felt naturally heated.

You saw it and felt it that first year with Hall of Famer Karrie Webb gazing up at the Australian flag with her country’s national anthem being played in the event’s opening.

“Our blood boils when we hear our anthem and when we see the flag,” Beatriz Recari said about the Spaniards winning the inaugural competition. “We feel the flag.”

The Spaniards aren’t back to defend their title. That’s how competitive qualifying was again. Sweden also didn’t qualify to return. England and China beat them out as newcomers.

“I played in the Solheim Cup a few years ago, and it was the best golf experience I’ve ever had,” England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff said. “This is going to be fun to be back in a team environment again.”

Sixteen of the 32 players in this week’s field are scheduled to compete in the Olympic women’s golf competition in Rio de Janeiro next month.

While the UL International Crown may not feature all the women’s stars the Olympics will, the Crown will offer a more compelling format. With fourball team match play for three days and Sunday singles, there’s going to be more daily drama than the standard 72-hole individual stroke play format will feature in the Olympics. With match play at the Crown, there will be winning and losing right from the first hole.

“For fourballs, it's just a birdie-fest,” Lewis said. “You've got to go out there and make as many birdies as you can. With that format, you just never know. You can go out there and make nine or 10 birdies as a team and lose. You’ve just got to play aggressive. It’s a fun week.”

Korea, Australia, Chinese Taipei and China will compete in Pool A.

The United States, Japan, Thailand and England will compete in Pool B.

A match victory is worth two points, a tie worth one point through the entire event.

Over the first three days, each team will play two fourball matches against every other team within its pool. The top two teams from each pool will advance to Sunday’s singles. A fifth team will advance from a Saturday playoff between the third-place teams from each pool. On Sunday, each remaining team will play one singles match against every other team, with 10 total matches.

The champion will be determined by who wins the most cumulative points over the four days of competition.

“I remember walking the range before the matches began [in 2014] and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda telling me she didn’t expect her hands to be shaking,” Whan said. “She wanted to do well for Spain.”

That’s the kind of nationalistic pride that makes these international team events work so well.

Getty Images

Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm