Quick Round With Dottie Pepper
Fans love that about her.
When she led the Americans to victory at the 1998 Solheim Cup at Muirfield Village Golf Club, European players famously placed her image on a punching bag. She was the American teams heart and soul, as apparent in her 5-1 singles record over the years as it was in Europes aggravation with her.
When audio technicians failed to cut off her microphone before going to a commercial break at the last Solheim Cup in Sweden, Pepper uttered a line that made the American team want to place her face on a punching bag. After Sherri Steinhauer missed a short putt at the 18th hole, allowing Europe to halve a match with her and Laura Diaz, Pepper let loose with her famous Choking freaking dogs comment. Though Pepper never meant the line to be aired, it created a furor within the American teams ranks.
Whether Pepper was attacking pins as an elite player, or problems as a TV analyst or magazine columnist, her gift has always been a fearless focus on what she believes matters most. She attacks life, and we like that about her. Smarts and passion work as well for her today in her duties with the Golf Channel and NBC as they did when she was a player.
Pepper, 43, is a 17-time LPGA winner with two major championships on her resume, the 1992 and 99 Kraft Nabisco Championships. Back, neck and wrist injuries led to her retirement after the 2004 season.
With the Solheim Cup just around the corner, senior writer Randall Mell caught up with Pepper for a quick round:
Do you want to be a Solheim Cup captain?
I couldnt fit it in my schedule right now, but maybe down the line that would work.
Youre back in the booth at the Solheim Cup in two weeks. Your Freaking Choking Dogs comment at the last Solheim Cup created a furor. You know it will be revisited. Were you surprised how big a deal that became?
Given the fact that the players werent given the accurate information, Im not surprised. I think once people realized the entire context of the whole thing, it wasnt as horrible as it sounded.
Do you think it hurt your chances to be a Solheim Cup captain?
It possibly could, but theres nothing I could do to change it.
Do you sense the team is over that and do you care? The team is completely different than it was then by quite a few bodies. It hasnt been brought up, frankly, other than busting my chops behind the scenes by people in television. Im saying its a non-factor, but Im sure it will be brought up in the next few weeks. If people really knew what happened, yes, I said it, six-and-a-half seconds after the audio guy was supposed to have turned all of us off. When people realize that, and they understand television, how things are said in breaks, funny and passionate, you may not agree with it, but you would understand it.
Did Sherri Steinhauer or Laura Diaz ever slap you with a white glove as an invitation to a duel?
No, Ill just leave it at that.
Is the Solheim Cup OK the way it is, the United States vs. Europe, or does it need a change to get more of the big international names in the mix?
I think the Solheim Cup has its place as Europe vs. the United States. Do I think someday, maybe not too far down the road, there needs to be something like Americas vs. the world (South, Central and North America), a Presidents Cup sort of event? I do. But the Solheim Cup, as it stands, has its place and a really good one.
What did you think of Beth Daniels Solheim Cup captains picks?
I thought Michelle (Wie) totally earned her place based on this years performance, especially when there were even fewer events than when Paula Creamer made it as a rookie in 2005. Of all the players up for the pick, she was, by far, playing the best. Juli (Inkster), quite frankly, wasnt picked for her golf skills right now. I think she fits the team room for her age experience. I think shes a mom figure thats maybe a little bit necessary because of the youthful nature of this team. Shes not playing very well right now, but the Solheim Cup sometimes turns a player around.
Only one American has won a major championship in the last nine played. No American has been the LPGAs Player of the Year in 15 years, since Beth Daniel, does it matter?
Americans have won (nine of the last 33 LPGA events). Its disappointing, yes. Do I think it matters? Yes. I think the surprising thing is that experience doesnt seem to matter in major championships anymore. You look over the last two-and-a-half years, and theres only been one player who has won more than one, Lorena Ochoa. That is even more of a surprise to me.
Why do you think that is?
I think everyones coming to this tour to prove themselves, but, honestly, I dont know.
Asians are dominating the LPGA. Obviously, with the controversy we saw over the LPGAs failed attempt to implement an English speaking policy, there are folks who think theres a problem. What do you think?
I think Se Ri Pak opened a lot of opportunities for a lot of young girls. The work ethic of these kids is phenomenal. Frankly, I think the American kids, right now, are a little soft. They havent had to work their way out of things and have been given a lot. You come up in a sport like golf and get to the highest levels, theres no other way around it but just to work hard. And, sometimes, if youve been given a lot as a kid, thats a hard deal. Sometimes you have the want for something that you dont really go out and get.
You adapted quickly to the analysts role, even the journalists role with your Sports Illustrated column. For former players, that can be a difficult adjustment, because they dont want to judge, or hurt the feelings, of other players. What was your attitude making the transition?
I was harder on myself as a player than any commentator could have been, or anybody else could have been, and I try to apply that same thing to myself, whether Im in the analysts position, or out on the course, or penning an article. I try to make myself as educated and prepared as I can be on every bit of it. Thats the way I was as a player, and its the way I take my job going forward. As a player, I wanted to know where I was weak, where I wasnt very good, and Ive tried to do the same thing in my role today.
Who should the next LPGA commissioner be?
The absolute best person, regardless of age, sex or job position currently.
Do you still play?
I still play.
How would you do in an LPGA event?
Physically, I dont know that I could put four rounds, or six rounds, together, but Id do OK. My golf isnt horrible.
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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp
LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.
Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.
“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”
McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.
“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”
McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.
Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'
LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.
Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.
Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.
“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”
Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.
“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”
Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.
“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”
Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'
LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.
Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.
It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.
“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.
Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.
“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”
Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.
Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win
LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?
The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.
Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.
In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.
What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.
If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.
Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.
“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”
He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.
That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.
Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."
“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”
While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.
“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”
While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.
Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.
“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”
It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.
One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.
“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.
And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.