Pressure is on U.S. to defend home turf at Solheim Cup

By Randall MellAugust 13, 2013, 2:40 pm

PARKER, Colo. – American women used to own this week.

The Solheim Cup was their last stronghold in the game, the last stage they still dominated.

Even with Asians seizing so many of the game’s biggest prizes, winning LPGA titles and majors in bunches, the Americans still had the Solheim Cup.

They still had this week to revel in one of golf’s brightest spotlights, and then Europe took that, too.

With a dramatic late rally in Ireland two years ago, the Euros broke the United States’ iron-fisted hold on the biennial matches, ending the Americans’ run of three straight Solheim Cup victories in routs.

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“We’ve been waiting two years to get our cup back,” Paula Creamer said.

Two years may have passed since the United States lost in Ireland, but the sour taste is still with the eight Americans returning from that team.

“It’s a big deal,” U.S. captain Meg Mallon said. “I know a lot of those players didn’t like that feeling at all. Some of them had never lost a Solheim Cup, so I know I have a highly motivated team.”

This is an important week for the Americans. They still dominate this one special corner of the game, the Solheim Cup on their home turf. They’ve never lost the biennial competition at home. They’re 6-0 on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. A victory is vital if only to keep this last coveted stronghold intact.

“We’ve never lost on home soil, and we’re all very aware of that,” Creamer said. “It’s a little bit of added pressure, but I still think we can use our crowds to be great motivators for us, and I think we’ll all feed off of that.”

This Solheim Cup, coming on the heels of Stacy Lewis’ victory at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, offers the Americans a chance to keep building momentum going to the year’s final major, the Evian Masters, next month. Lewis ended the longest American drought in the history of women’s major championships, a winless run of 10 straight majors. She led a strong American showing at St. Andrews with three U.S. players finishing among the top six, five among the top 10.

“Incredibly strong,” Mallon said. “We’re playing on all cylinders right now, and I’m really excited about it.”

The Americans are 2/5 favorites to win back the cup, according to Ladbrokes.

Even with their victory in Ireland, the Euros have something to prove. They will be trying to break through and win for the first time on American soil with a roster that barely resembles the one that won two years ago. There are six Solheim Cup rookies in the Euro lineup. Outside the inaugural event, there have never been more Solheim Cup rookies on a European roster (’02 also had six rookies).

“I feel like this is really the team that is going to do it for us,” European captain Liselotte Neumann said.

The Euros have been pushed off the game’s largest stages even more forcefully by Asia’s ascendance than the Americans. Sixteen major championships have passed since a European last won a major. No Euro has won a major since Scotland’s Catriona Matthew won the Women’s British Open at the end of ‘09.

With Laura Davies no longer in the mix, Matthew, 43, and Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, 32, are back as Europe’s team leaders. For the first time in the history of the Solheim Cup, the matches will be played without Davies, who didn’t qualify and wasn’t a captain’s pick. Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Caroline Hedwall and Spain’s Azahara Munoz are all back from the team that won in Ireland. France’s Karine Icher is back on the team 11 years after her first and only other Solheim Cup appearance.

The six Europeans making their first Solheim Cup appearances include England’s Charley Hull, who at 17 will be the youngest competitor in Solheim Cup history. Spain’s Beatriz Recari and Carlota Ciganda, Germany’s Caroline Masson, England’s Jodi Ewart-Shadoff and Italy’s Giulia Sergas are the other first timers.

Recari has won three LPGA titles -- two this year -- and she’s well known by American audiences. The other five Euro first-timers add an element of the unknown. Ciganda, Masson, Shadoff and Sergas are all playing the LPGA this year, but they’ve never won on that tour. Hull has made just nine starts in her rookie season and yet is fourth on the LET Order of Merit with five second-place finishes.

On paper, there doesn’t look like a massive difference between the teams, with the Euros having more players from the top 10 of Rolex world rankings than the Americans (2/1) and more top-30 players (8/7). The USA has cumulatively won 51 LPGA and LET titles. The Euros have won 49 such titles.

The Americans will bring more big hitters, but the Euros have some power, too.

The most important difference may lie in the Euros having six Solheim Cup rookies to the USA’s four.

Those Euro Solheim Cup rookies aren’t exactly bringing a lot of positive momentum to Colorado Golf Club. All six of them missed the cut at the Women’s British Open. Three of the USA’s four Solheim Cup rookies made the cut there.

“With six rookies on the European side, it's not like you are going to be able to hide anybody,” said Golf Channel’s Curt Byrum, who will team with Judy Rankin as analysts in the Solheim Cup TV coverage. “Half the team is rookies on the European side. In those conditions, with that much pressure on U.S. soil, I think that gives the U.S. a bit of an edge.

“I think the veterans on the two teams are fairly evenly matched. I think it could come down to how the rookies play.”

Overall, the Euros disappointed at St. Andrews, with eight players from the 12-woman Euro Solheim Cup roster missing the cut at the Women’s British Open.

Just two of the 12 American team members missed the cut there.

The Euros team sport an average age of 27.6, but the Americans are even younger. At an average age of 26.3, this is the youngest American team in Solheim Cup history.

The Americans bring Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang and Michelle Wie back as returning veterans. The four first-timers are Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas and Gerina Piller.

As much as the Solheim Cup rosters can be dissected, there is such an unknown dynamic with 10 of the 24 players making their first appearance. Mallon says you never really know how players will react the first time to Solheim Cup pressure until they’re under it.

“The Solheim Cup is a different beast,” Mallon said back when she was beginning to mull over captain’s picks. “In the nine Solheim Cups I’ve been a part of, it’s actually ruined some players’ careers because they were not ready for that stage.”

Mallon said other players instantly thrive. The Euros will likely need their large contingent of rookies to surprise to keep the Americans from taking back the cup.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.