Solheim Cup foes both want underdog role

By Randall MellSeptember 15, 2015, 11:30 am

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – The Americans would like to think they are the underdogs at the Solheim Cup this week.

They aren’t.

If you examine the resumes of the 12 players on the United States roster, compare them to Europe’s, it’s no contest in favor of the Americans. If you look at the world rankings, it’s no contest again. The Americans’ average world ranking is 24.6 and Europe’s is 52.6.

“I don’t know that you can call yourselves underdogs when you’re that much higher ranked,” European captain Carin Koch said.

If you look at major championships won (10-4), the Americans tower over the Euros. If you look at LPGA titles (16-4) won over the last two years, the Americans also dominate, even though 10 of the 12 Euros in this Solheim Cup are LPGA members.

It doesn’t matter that the Europeans have won the last two Solheim Cups, or that they beat the United States in a record 18-10 rout at the Colorado Golf Club in the last event. It doesn’t matter that the Europeans are the “home team” this time around, either.

You want the official word? That comes from the bookmakers.

The experts, the gurus who officially make the odds, they’re all making the Americans the favorites.


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Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power are among oddsmakers who list the Americans as favorites.

Ladbrokes and William Hill both make the United States a 4-6 favorite. Paddy Power makes them even heavier favorites at 8-13.

What do the odds really mean? They mean the majority of the betting public believes the Americans should win. Bookmakers aren’t prognosticators. They aren’t in the business of predicting who will win. They aren’t floating their opinions making these odds. What they’re trying to do is accurately assess the public perception of who will win. That’s how oddsmaking works.

If the odds were even this week, a load of money would be bet on the United States. That’s a fact. That’s why bookmakers are shifting the odds to make the Americans the favorite, to even out the betting.

Of course, as they say, this is all “on paper.”

And as we’ve learned, what’s on paper doesn’t mean diddly in these international team competitions. The Americans were heavily favored in both of the Solheim Cups lost in 2011 and ’13.

Most of professional golf is an individual sport. It’s individuals playing for themselves, and most of it is stroke play.

The Solheim Cup, like the Ryder Cup and Walker Cup, is a team event, and it’s all match play.

This team thing and this match-play thing, they change everything.

“Match play, it’s a different  game,” said France’s Gwladys Nocera, who’s playing in her fourth Solheim Cup. “I think, two years ago, we were more united as a team than maybe the Americans were. Why? I don’t know. You have to ask them why they aren’t super strong together.

“On the European side, for sure, we were like really, really strong together. Maybe that makes a difference at the end.”

Maybe that’s just perception, but the scores of the last two Solheim Cups favor Nocera’s assertion. And even if it’s perception that the Americans aren’t a strong team, it’s a reality in the heads of the Euros. That’s a potential psychological advantage.

“On paper, for sure, the Americans are better than the Europeans,” said France’s Karine Icher, who will be playing in her third Solheim Cup. “When you take the world rankings, there is no doubt they are much better. The magic of the match play, you never know. You can play No. 2 in the world against No. 100, and No. 100 wins, and you don’t know why.

“It’s probably mental and how you can create a spirit together. It’s about being a team and being able to put aside every personal thing.”

While bookmakers might not agree with U.S. captain Juli Inkster’s assertion that the United States is the underdog this week, there’s no denying the Americans have adopted the mindset.

“My plan is to bring our lunch boxes over there,” Inkster said. “We're going to have fun, but we're also going to go to work. We’re tired of losing to the European team. We are the underdogs. It's been a long time since we've been the underdogs, and the only way to get that back is to go over there and work hard and play some good golf.”

What is it about international team events that makes everyone want to be the underdog?

“I think it just makes you a little bit more scrappy, a little bit more willing to fight harder,” said Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champ who played on two European Solheim Cup teams. “There's no real pressure on the performance, because you're not expected to win, so you can go out there and just show everybody what you've got, but with a little chip on your shoulder to say. 'You know what? It may not be thought that I'm as good, but I am as good.’ So that's what the underdog role does for the players.”

Whether the Americans should be favored or not, Koch knows they’re highly motivated and they’re feeling some heat.

“In my eyes, it’s Team USA that's under pressure,” Koch said. “But we also want it all. We want to win three in a row. That's our big goal. It's another tournament. It has nothing to do with what happened in Colorado or what happened the time before then. We start over, and it's the Solheim Cup 2015 at St. Leon Rot, and this is the event. We're there to win, but we're also there to have a great match and to just have a lot of fun.”

The winners always have the most fun.

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.



Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.