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.

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Hot Seat: Honda fans bring noise and heat

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 1:34 pm

The Bear Trap awaits in South Florida.

With hot, sunny days forecast for all four rounds of the Honda Classic, the mercury’s rising, especially at the 17th hole, where the revelry at the Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion could turn the tee box into a sweat box.

It may be even steamier for women playing the Honda LPGA Thailand, with temperatures forecast in the 90s for the weekend.

Here’s our special heat index gauging the toastiest seats in golf this week:

Five-alarm salsa – PGA National’s 17th tee

PGA Tour pros almost universally don’t want to see the craziness promoted at the Phoenix Open’s party hole (No. 16) duplicated at other Tour events, but they will get a distant cousin this week at the Honda Classic.

The Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion sits over the 17th tee, where Graeme McDowell cracked that players can get “splashed with vodka cranberries” if the wind is right. The Cobra Puma Village surrounds the 17th green.

That pretty much means everyone playing through there late in the day, with the party fully percolating, is on the Hot Seat.

Tiger Woods is scheduled to go through there at about Happy Hour on Friday afternoon.

“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t Scottsdale, this is ridiculous,’” Billy Horschel said after playing through there a year ago.

Sergio Garcia was among players who got heckled there last year.

It’s one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, ranking as the 21st most difficult par 3 last year.



Hot-collar rub – Rickie Fowler

Fowler returns to the Honda Classic as its defending champ.

He also returns for his first start since losing the 54-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he bogeyed three of the final four holes and fell all the way out of the top 10 at Sunday’s end.

Fowler is now one for his last six closing out 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour.


Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.


Spicy Tom Yum heat – Shanshan Feng

The Rolex world No. 1 in women’s golf is back in action with the strongest field of this young season ready to resume chasing her at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

World No. 2 Sung Hyun Park will be making her first start of the year. No. 3 So Yeon Ryu, No. 4 Lexi Thompson, No. 5 Anna Nordqvist and No. 6 In Gee Chun are all in the field.

Park and Ryu shared Rolex Player of the Year honors last season. Thompson was the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year.

Feng has ridden atop the world rankings for 15 consecutive weeks. She opened the year tying for third at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last month.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 1:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


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So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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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.