Pepper's Solheim captaincy hopes boosted

By Randall MellJanuary 27, 2012, 12:10 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dottie Pepper’s time might come after all.

When Rosie Jones was named the U.S. Solheim Cup captain for last year’s event, it was the strongest sign yet that Pepper was being skipped over as a possible captain, that the controversy that erupted over Pepper’s stinging criticism of the American team five years ago would never be forgiven.

With Meg Mallon being named the American captain Thursday for the 2013 matches, it was more evidence that Pepper wasn’t just being pushed to the back of the line, but possibly out of the line, forever.

But something changed Thursday with Mallon being named the American skipper.

Mallon changed things.

Really, for the first time since Pepper blasted the American team as “choking freaking dogs” when she believed she was off the air as a TV analyst in Sweden in 2007, there’s a ray of hope for Pepper. Mallon offered it.

When I asked Mallon after Thursday’s announcement if she would consider Pepper as an assistant captain, Mallon cracked a door that appeared to be slammed shut.

“I don’t know who my assistant captains will be yet,” Mallon said. “But I do believe Dottie Pepper should be a captain someday. I also strongly believe that anyone who is captain should be an assistant captain first. Whether it’s me who names her, or another captain after me, Dottie was the face of the U.S. Solheim Cup team in the ‘90s. She deserves to be captain.”

Mallon believes it’s time to welcome Pepper back into the Solheim Cup fold.

“I’m all about forgiveness, and I think both sides need to step forward to kind of have that healing happen, and it couldn’t happen soon enough for me,” Mallon said. “I’ve spent my whole career with Dottie, and I know her whole heart bleeds red, white and blue. She is so passionate about the Solheim Cup that sometimes that passion comes out in ways that have obviously hurt other people. But I still believe you can get over those hurts, and that she will be a captain someday.”

Pepper, 46, was visibly moved when told about Mallon’s comment.

“I don’t know what to make of it, but it’s terribly complimentary, and that means a lot to me,” Pepper told

Back when Jones was named captain, I asked Pepper if she wanted to be captain.

“I could in no way fit it into my schedule,” Pepper said of her NBC and Golf Channel analyst duties. “But because of the issue in Sweden, I don’t believe I will ever be in the conversation.”

With Mallon’s sentiment, Pepper is at least in the conversation again.

“Dottie’s a very busy person, too, so I’m not sure that it is something that would appeal to her right now, but that would be a conversation I would have to have with Dottie, or the next captain would have to have with her,” Mallon said of possible assistant captaincy.

Of course, there is more than Pepper’s Swedish gaffe working against her. As an announcer, Pepper pulls no punches. Her candid assessments have upset some players over the years.

Still, Pepper’s LPGA and Solheim Cup records eminently qualify her for captaincy. She won 17 LPGA titles, two majors. She played in six Solheim Cups, compiling an impressive 13-5-2 record, 5-1 in singles. Her 14 points are third most for an American in Solheim Cup history. Only Juli Inkster (18½) and Mallon (16) scored more.

As good as her record is, Pepper’s fiery and patriotic reputation as a Solheim Cupper trumps it. She dyed her hair red before the ’94 matches. Her leadership in so many victories made her appear to be a lock as a future captain before the debacle in Sweden. While Americans loved Pepper at the Solheim Cup, Europeans despised her. Back in ’98, at Muirfield Village, Europe’s Annika Sorenstam was so annoyed at Pepper’s spirited demeanor, she put Pepper’s photo on a punching bag. The European team took turns socking Pepper’s face.

Still, there was begrudging respect.

Mickey Walker, who captained the first four European Solheim Cup teams, admired Pepper’s spirit.

“Dottie Pepper, without a doubt, has been the greatest Solheim Cup competitor,” Walker once said. “I remember at The Greenbrier [in ’94], looking at her face. I had never seen such intensity. She said there that for two years she ate, slept and dreamed about being on the team and getting the cup back.”

Whether Pepper can start dreaming those dreams again remains to be seen, but Mallon changed the dynamic. She introduced the possibility. Mallon isn’t just next year’s U.S. captain. She’ll join the U.S. Solheim Cup committee that selects future captains after the 2013 matches conclude.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Getty Images

Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.