Pepper back in the U.S. Solheim Cup family

By Randall MellJuly 4, 2012, 8:00 pm

KOHLER, Wis. – They haven’t forgotten what Dottie Pepper said.

They haven’t all necessarily forgiven her stinging rebuke, either.

But Americans who played on the U.S. Solheim Cup team that Pepper blasted in 2007 are ready to embrace the return of one of history’s most dominant American Solheim Cup players.

They say they’re ready to move on with Pepper, 46, back in their ranks as an assistant captain for next year’s matches at Colorado Golf Club.

“I don’t think it’s all forgiven, but everyone deserves a second chance,” said Cristie Kerr, who was on that ’07 American team. “People say stupid things, sometimes. It is what it is. But you know what? She’s a damn good commentator. She does a lot of great TV, and she is one of the greatest American players who have played the game. She’s also human. I think it’s what makes her great. She’s going to be a great addition to the team. I’ve talked to some of the other players, and we’re all really excited about it.”

U.S. captain Meg Mallon couldn’t have welcomed Pepper back to the ranks on a more fitting day.

The Fourth of July was a red, white and Dottie day at the U.S. Women’s Open with Mallon making the announcement in the media center. Pepper once dyed her hair red for the Solheim Cup and used to paint her fingernails and toe nails red, white and blue. She played on six Solheim Cup teams and built a 13-5-2 record, 5-1 in singles. Pepper’s 14 career points are third most in the American ranks, trailing only Juli Inkster (18½) and Mallon (16).

“Dottie was arguably the face of the Solheim Cup in the ‘90s,” Mallon said. “She carried it very well and wore red, white and blue on her sleeve. She was unabashedly patriotic.”

Even the Euros will vouch for Pepper being the face of the American Solheim Cup team.

Back at the ’98 Solheim Cup at Muirfield Village, the Euros became so infuriated with Pepper that they put her photo on a punching bag and took turns whacking it.

Pepper’s place in the Cup’s annals, however, changed during the matches in ’07 in Sweden. That’s where she called the Americans “Choking freaking dogs.” She blurted the comment as a Golf Channel analyst believing she was off the air for commercial. She made the comment after Sherri Steinhauer missed a short putt that would have closed out a Saturday foursomes match.

Morgan Pressel was one of seven Americans on that ’07 team who also played in last year’s Solheim Cup and remains a factor to make next year’s team.

“Obviously, she made a mistake,” Pressel said. “We were all emotionally involved out there, and she was too, having been on so many Solheim Cups. I’m sure it was hard for her to be impartial, but it’s been five years. Time heals a lot of things.”

Pressel, whose temperament is often compared to Pepper’s, is looking forward to the chemical equation Pepper will bring.

“This is a good thing for golf,” Pressel said. “It’s good to hear her name talked about in a Solheim Cup again. She’s about as fiery as they come, so we will have a pretty pumped up locker room.”

Pepper’s alienation for so long included the feeling that she didn’t apologize enough, that she didn’t reach out to injured parties enough. Pepper believes she did.

“I put my head on a platter,” Pepper said. “There’s not a day, really, that goes by that I don’t regret that it happened.”

Hall of Famer Beth Daniel was an assistant captain to Betsy King in ‘07. Daniel, who captained the winning American team in ’09, believes there are still some tender wounds from the incident, but she believes Pepper’s return will work very well.

“For some people, there’s closure, but I think for other people there probably isn’t,” Daniel said. “It’s just one of those things. There are probably a few bridges to be mended, but the timing is good. And like Meg said, it’s time for people to give it a break.”

Daniel remembers the furor Pepper’s comment caused, but she never actually heard the comment until she returned home and watched the videotape replay.

“When I got home and watched the video, I just busted out laughing,” Daniel said. “When you heard somebody tell it there, it’s different than when you actually hear it. When you heard it, you realized Dottie was just so passionately involved in the match, it was just emotion coming out. It was like she was playing that match. I think if she had been in that match, she would have been the first one to come into the locker room and say, `I was a choking freaking dog.’ It was totally passion.”

Though Pepper’s comment added to King’s challenge as captain in ’07, she expressed no qualms about Pepper’s return to the matches.

“Obviously, Meg feels Dottie will make a great assistant captain,” King said in a telephone interview from her Pennsylvania home. “Dottie’s been a big part of a lot of Solheim Cups, and I think she will be a great assistant.”

So does Hall of Famer Judy Rankin, a two-time U.S. Solheim Cup captain.

“Meg and I had a long talk, and I was all for this,” Rankin said. “I don’t want to say it was all silly, it wasn’t silly, but any of us can get overly emotional watching any competition we really care about. I think most of us say something that we wouldn’t like heard when we are rooting or we are frustrated. But, it’s over and out and done.”

When Pepper stepped off the stage Wednesday in the media center, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan gave her a hug.

“Welcome back,” Whan said.

Whan’s words usher in a new chapter in Pepper’s Solheim Cup legacy.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.