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How to rescue U.S. women's golf: Inkster is the key

By Randall MellJanuary 30, 2018, 10:59 pm

Juli Inkster broke the American Solheim Cup captain’s mold Tuesday with news she will lead the team for a third consecutive time.

Nobody has ever led three U.S. teams.

This is historic, this move to make the most of Inkster’s ability to shape, mold and motivate women.

But why stop there?

Here is one man’s idea to expand Inkster’s transcendent gifts to an even more historically impactful role.

Make Inkster Captain America in the largest sense.

If forward thinking minds are willing to give her creative new reach, she might prove to be as good for what ails American women’s golf overall as she has been for the American Solheim Cup effort.

Make Inkster the point person for a collaborative new American developmental program that is still in its infancy, a program that could become a new U.S. pipeline to the women’s game if developed more fully.

The LPGA, USGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and Augusta National have been working together to create a new American developmental model to guide youth through the game.

Make Inkster the face of that collaboration.

Make her the captain of that effort, too.

Make her the full-time American Solheim Cup captain for as long as she wants the job, with a larger mission to grow the women’s game.

Call it the American Women’s Golf Initiative and formalize that new collaborative effort.

Make her a salaried LPGA executive in that expanded role, a special assistant to commissioner Mike Whan. The tour couldn’t make a better investment in the future of women’s golf. They would be a formidable team.

With the women’s game continuing to grow globally, with Asian dominance expanding beyond South Korea, the Americans could use a more organized effort to bolster their women.

LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf is growing at an impressive rate. Whan loves to cite the numbers. The next step is developmental, turning the growing interest into world-class talent.

“Americans need to do something before they become extinct,” Gary Gilchrist, who coaches world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and major championship winners Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutantugarn, told last year.

Inkster, by the way, has no idea this observer imagines a more formalized role like this for her. She may have no interest in it, but she is definitely interested in using her captaincy in larger ways this time around, to advocate for young women in the game. She understands the uniquely influential role the Solheim Cup stage gives her, and she is becoming more confident using it.

We saw that after Inkster led the Americans to victory in Iowa last summer. Near the end of the winner’s news conference, she wasn’t afraid to use her platform.

Proud of the entertainment value the women offered in Des Moines, she spoke out against the inequities she sees other weeks.

“I'm going to say it right now, and I probably shouldn't say it, but I just don't understand how all these companies get away with supporting PGA Tour events and not supporting the LPGA,” Inkster said there. “It makes me a little upset, because I think we've got a great product. We deserve our due.”

Inkster, 57, is already an LPGA Hall of Famer. She has won 31 times, with seven major championship titles. She sees the Solheim Cup captaincy as a chance to win more than another trophy.

“Four years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said what I said in Iowa,” Inkster told on Tuesday. “I’m getting more confident in myself. Even at 57, I’m still learning.

“I didn’t say that in Iowa to be feminist. I said it as a woman golfer, with daughters, wanting the best for the LPGA, because I think we have a great brand, and I don’t think we get the respect we deserve, sometimes.”

Inkster said she didn’t intend for that to be controversial.

“I wanted to say it in a way that did not sound like `Woe is me,’ or `Woe is the LPGA.’ I think all the girls love what they do and feel fortunate they can make a living doing it, but can we do better? Yes, we can do better.”

“The golf was so good in Iowa, and we had such great crowds there, I just wanted people to be impressed how good it was. It was the perfect moment to bring out what I was feeling, that I think things should start changing a little bit.”

In so many ways, Inkster was the star of the American team in Iowa and also when they won in a+ historic comeback in Germany two years before that.

Inkster didn’t hit a shot as the captain of those teams, but she dominated those stages, completely transforming the American team into her own image.

“Each one of us had a little bit of Juli in us,” Stacy Lewis said.

We saw that in the Opening Ceremony in both Germany and Iowa, when the American players abandoned their stiletto heels to wear the old Chuck Taylor Converse basketball shoes that Inkster loves to wear.

We saw it in the red-, white-and-blue lunch buckets Inkster’s players embraced as their team gift in Germany and the hard hats she got them in Iowa.

Mostly, we saw it in the way the Americans conducted themselves, in the way they worked hard, played hard, loved hard and laughed as much as they could along the way.

“Juli is a freaking rock star,” Gerina Piller said. “We look up to her so much.”

That’s what gives Inkster a chance to touch more than a Solheim Cup trophy with her reach this time around.

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Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

"This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

"I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

"Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

Hard to argue with the result.

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Tiger draws Sneds, Kizzire at Honda Classic

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 7:43 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Patton Kizzire and Brandt Snedeker for the first two rounds of the Honda Classic.

The threesome will tee off at 7:45 a.m. ET Thursday off PGA National’s 10th tee, then 12:35 p.m. off the first tee in the second round Friday.

Woods is making his first start at the Honda, his hometown event, since 2014. He tied for second here in 2012, after a final-round 62.

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This is the first time he has ever played with Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the FedExCup points leader.

Other notable groups for the first two rounds:

  • Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Daniel Berger: 7:35 a.m. Thursday, 12:25 p.m. Friday
  • Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Gary Woodland: 7:55 a.m. Thursday, 12:45 p.m. Friday
  • Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kisner: 12:25 p.m. Thursday, 7:35 a.m. Friday
  • Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington: 12:35 p.m. Thursday, 7:45 a.m. Friday