Expect fresh faces, same intensity at Solheim Cup

By Randall MellAugust 1, 2017, 4:00 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – It’s funny how team golf works.

While Americans and Europeans have become marginalized in this modern era of the women’s game, the Solheim Cup has never been more relevant.

While Asians dominate the game as a whole, the Solheim Cup has ascended to new prominence as compelling theater.

American Lexi Thompson will be the only top-10 player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings in this year’s Solheim Cup, but the nature of the intensifying rivalry between the United States and Europe in the biennial international team event makes that a mere footnote.

The Solheim Cup spotlights the one and only true rivalry today in the women’s game.

If the Solheim Cup wasn’t already a grudge match, it officially became so two years ago, when Norway’s Suzann Pettersen practically ignited an international incident over Europe’s lack of a concession in a fourball match in Germany.

The furor set off a debate pitting the Rules of Golf against sportsmanship, with hard lines drawn over whether Pettersen violated the spirit of the game in her refusal to concede a putt that American Alison Lee thought was conceded.

It left Lee in tears at the end of the match, and Pettersen in tears at the end of the day as the backlash on social media hit with brutish force.

Pettersen ended up throwing herself on the mercy of fandom, issuing a public apology on Instagram and then following up with an apology in a special Golf Channel interview.

“I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition,” Pettersen wrote in her lengthy apology. “I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself.”

Going to Ireland six years ago, the Solheim Cup’s fire appeared to be going out, with the Americans making the Europeans look overmatched after winning three consecutive events, but that seems like ancient history on the eve of this Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Euros won with a dramatic late Sunday finish in Ireland in 2011, then punished the Americans in a record rout in Colorado in 2013, but the Euros watched the Americans beat them in a record Sunday comeback in Germany in 2015.

The embers are already stoked for Iowa with the heat promising to rise when the matches are re-engaged in two weeks.

There is more at stake than a major championship at Kingsbarns in St. Andrews this week. There are Solheim Cup roster spots to be won with double points in play. It’s the week’s electric subplot with qualifying concluding when the last putt is holed.

Current U.S. and European team Solheim Cup standings

Clearly, Pettersen will be the top storyline going to Iowa. She insists the debacle in Germany is far behind her.

“I think the media was the one who kind of dragged that incident on and on and on, much more than what we players and whoever was involved did,” Pettersen said. “I feel like everyone that was involved kind of cleared that up fairly quickly in the aftermath and all moved on.”

European captain Annika Sorenstam hopes so with record Solheim Cup galleries expected at Des Moines Golf and Country Club.

“I would say that everybody has moved on,” Sorenstam said. “If there is somebody that wants to move on, that's Suzann. I think we'll all keep this in mind.

“Everybody learns from mistakes or incidents, I think we all learn from those. It just shows you that when you get together, how passionate, how when the adrenaline is pumping and just the competitiveness is so high, it's just amazing how some of these situations happen that we all, looking back at it, go, ‘How can this happen?’ It was not intentional. I think we are ready to move on and focus on the good parts, and just let the golf showcase itself.”

While Pettersen has played 13 times in the United States since that Solheim Cup incident, she knows the controversy will be revisited with Iowa’s approach.

“You do get reminded by media and some random fan here and there, but it was tough at the time,” Pettersen said. “It was a tough loss I think for the European side, that we actually lost the big lead we had going into the finals. I think people kind of forget. It was actually a massive comeback for the Americans to win it.”

Who’s going to help Pettersen make new memories in Des Moines? That’s among the big Solheim Cup questions to be answered at Kingsbarns.

Really, who is going to be left off the American and European rosters is as big a storyline as who is going to make the teams.

Half of the European team that lost in Germany two years ago isn’t certain of making the team Sorenstam will take to Iowa.

Four Americans who helped the United States make that epic comeback at St. Leon Rot may not be on this year’s team, including stalwarts Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel.

With the struggling Ladies European Tour dealing with economic woes, Solheim Cup qualifying has been severely handcuffed. Five events have been scrapped from the schedule this year, including the Ladies European Masters, which was scheduled for September.

England’s Georgia Hall leads the LET Solheim Cup points list, but she has played in just four LET events outside the majors this year. She went two months without competing in a tournament before getting into the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on a sponsor’s exemption.

England’s Florentyna Parker is second on the LET points list. She won the Mediterranean Ladies Open in April but is in a similar position to Hall.

They are virtual locks to make the European team on points. But as unknown commodities internationally, there’s a question whether Sorenstam will have to hide them in her lineup roster or whether they are poised to offer a jolt of important new help.

“I'm very, very impressed with Georgia,” Sorenstam said. “She is just very technically sound. I just like her attitude.”

Sorenstam also welcomes Parker’s winning momentum with her victory this spring at the Mediterranean Open. The challenge, Sorenstam said, is getting to know these young players quickly.

“We have tried to get some of these LET players to get playing opportunities, whether it's Symetra Tour or whether it's getting invites to LPGA events,” Sorenstam said. “Because some of these players – it’s not a secret – Georgia Hall and Florentyna Parker are leading in the LET points, but if they wouldn't have played on the LPGA, they wouldn't have had any tournament experience coming into August. And that's just the reality of it, but luckily they have. That's why Florentyna has been flying around the world – Korea, Thailand – just trying to get playing opportunities, and Georgia has played in the U.S. a few times.”

For the Euros, there will be four players guaranteed spots from atop the LET points list come Sunday’s conclusion of the Women’s British Open. Hall, Parker, England’s Mel Reid and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda currently hold those spots.

There will also be four players from atop the European Solheim Cup world rankings list. Pettersen, England’s Charley Hull, France’s Karine Icher and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff hold those spots.

That will leave Sorenstam with some tough choices as her four captain’s picks.

Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist is a lock as one of those. She may now be Europe’s best player. Because of her withdrawal from the Ladies Scottish Open with illness last week, Nordqvist won’t get the minimum LET starts to qualify on points or world rankings. She has to make it as a captain’s pick.

That leaves Solheim Cup veterans Sandra Gal and Caroline Masson of Germany, Azahara Munoz of Spain and Catriona Matthew of Scotland possibly fighting for the other three captain’s picks.

On the American side, eight players will make it on points. Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Gerina Piller, Cristie Kerr, Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang appear secure. Michelle Wie and Brittany Lang hold the final two spots, but even if they don’t make it on points, they’re looking like they could be locks to make it on the U.S. world rankings list.

The two highest ranked Americans not qualified on the points list will make it off the world rankings list.  Brittany Lincicome (No. 42) and Lizette Salas (No. 45) hold those spots. Wie is No. 35 and Lang No. 37.

Though Nelly Korda is 27th on the U.S. points list, American captain Juli Inkster has made no secret she is high on her list of potential captain’s picks.

Solheim Cup veteran Angela Stanford joins Mo Martin, Austin Ernst, Marina Alex and Angel Yin as possible captain’s picks.

“I hate to disappoint anybody, but I'm going to take the players that are playing hot right now,” Inkster said.

The Women’s British Open is the last chance for players to earn points and impress Inkster and Sorenstam.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.