The other side of Annika at the Solheim Cup

By Randall MellAugust 22, 2017, 4:30 pm

The losing captains in these international team events get torn to shreds.

They get blamed for everything from pairings to picks to international financial markets taking dives.

That’s practically the rule in Ryder Cups and Solheim Cups, but Annika Sorenstam distinguished herself last week as an exception to the rule.

Yes, Europe got routed, 16½ to 11½, but this was an odd Solheim Cup, where the final score didn’t really reflect the entertainment value these teams offered.

Somehow, some way, there was great theater in so many matches within this lopsided matchup, from Danielle Kang’s flamboyant debut making putts from all over the place, to Cristie Kerr’s record-setting performances, to Anna Nordqvist mustering triumphant efforts playing through mononucleosis.

And we even got another memorable comeback Sunday, but it was Lexi Thompson delivering it after losing the first four holes to Nordqvist before regrouping to halve the match. It was a terrific duel that made Sunday’s finish worth watching by itself.



When I remember Sorenstam’s captaincy, I won’t remember the final score as much as I’ll remember seeing Annika open herself up to us like we’ve never seen before.

This is one of the all-time greats, a Hall of Famer who won more LPGA titles (72) than anyone except Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82), but Sorenstam distinguished herself in this losing effort. She showed her team how to lose with grace and dignity and how to put up a fight even when you are overmatched.

I’ll remember Sorenstam for her inspiring appearance Saturday in the media center, where this captain, who was so measured her entire playing career, let her guard down and invited us into her head and heart. She was as good as you could possibly ask a captain to be answering questions with her team getting trounced worse going into singles than any European team in the history of the Solheim Cup. Chin up, jaw resolutely set, she let us hear how a champion thinks when her back’s to a wall. She struck such a genuine tone. There was a bonus, too, there was her unexpected good humor that night, which sent a couple jolts of laughter through the interview room.

I wrote early in the week that Sorenstam won with cold precision as a player, that she was a bit of a loner in her prime who seemed to use the distance she created with other players to cultivate the aura of intimidation that added to her advantage.

That’s the way it was, but it was unfair in failing to reveal how she has evolved away from the game and how she would be as a captain.

I’ll remember Sorenstam in Des Moines, Iowa, locked arm in arm with her European players, walking up the fairway in solidarity at the end of their defeat, a team that didn’t point fingers or grumble but gave us some good theater in stirring scenes within the rout. Sorenstam built that unified front, something that is harder to do in defeat than victory.



Yes, there was tension between Sorenstam and U.S. captain Juli Inkster coming into these matches, something that happens when two giants of the game have butted heads with valued championships and trophies at stake, but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t mutual respect. There was.

Somewhere in the cosmos, Louise Solheim had to be smiling down when Sorenstam donned a Viking helmet with horns and blonde braids and danced with Inkster on the first tee during Sunday singles.

Inkster and Sorenstam were models of competitive decorum.

I’ll remember so many things beyond the final score in Sorenstam’s captaincy. Yes, you can second guess her captain’s picks, taking rookies over proven veterans like Azahara Munoz and Sandra Gal, but Sorenstam was dealt a tough hand with Suzann Pettersen withdrawing because of a bad back, with Charley Hull missing all of Saturday with a wrist injury, with Nordqvist understandably having to rest at least one session with mono and with Carlota Ciganda losing form at the worst possible time, but Sorenstam never grumbled about it. She showed her team how you meet adversity.

“It was pretty inspiring,” Hull said. “And it was quite cool. You kind of get into the mind of the greatest female golfer that's lived. And that's pretty special.”

Hull couldn’t have said it much better. It’s a shame Sorenstam was so resolute in saying she wouldn’t be pursuing a return as captain next time around, because that might be Europe’s worst loss from this. Europe ought to be clamoring as hard for Sorenstam’s return as captain as the United States is for Inkster’s return. We would all win with that.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.