'There is no love lost': Inkster vs. Sorenstam

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2017, 7:14 pm

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – They’re giants of the game.

This Solheim Cup intrigues on a number of levels, but it starts at the top now that Suzann Pettersen is on the sidelines.

Annika Sorenstam vs. Juli Inkster.

They won’t hit a shot this week, but Europe’s Sorenstam and America’s Inkster do more than control the pieces on the game’s chessboard as captains here at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. They’re in charge of pairings, devising strategies and creating what they hope will be winning atmospheres.

While they respect each other and are intent on upholding the Solheim family’s honorable intentions creating this biennial international team event, they want to beat each other.

They’re both Hall of Famers, rivals from way back.

They’re highly competitive athletes, who don’t like losing, especially to each other.

“There’s a sense that there is no love lost between the two, that they're just from two completely different worlds in the way they live life, their philosophical approach to life, and playing golf,” said Kay Cockerill, a Golf Channel analyst and friend to Inkster. “I just think it's a very interesting dynamic between the two. It will be interesting if we see any kind of head bumping or intense conversations between the two, which could very well happen.”

It happened two years ago in Germany, but it ended up being overshadowed by the furor surrounding Pettersen and the lack of concession to Alison Lee, which fueled the United States’ historic comeback in singles.

Before that, there was Inkster’s Saturday showdown with Sorenstam over whether Sorenstam violated the captain’s agreement by giving advice to European players. Inkster and Sorenstam squared off in a heated discussion before the afternoon fourballs, with Sorenstam insisting she was wrongly accused. The agreement states that only captains can give advice during the competition. Sorenstam was a vice captain.

“I was extremely hurt,” Sorenstam said back then. “I knew the lesson from Colorado. I was insulted, and I addressed it with Juli.”

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Back in Colorado two years before that, Sorenstam was accused of relaying advice to a player through a European caddie.

“Juli is not a confrontational person,” said Pat Hurst, an American assistant captain and long-time friend to Inkster. “But Juli’s going to protect her team, stick up for her players, no matter what.”

Sorenstam was more of a loner on tour in her prime, with the distance she kept as a competitor helping to cultivate her intimidating aura.

Inkster was more approachable, immensely popular, someone who moved easily from one group to another on a practice range, teasing and prodding players and caddies alike.

Sorenstam dominated her era, which overlapped with Inkster’s. They were as different as players as they were as people.

Sorenstam, 46 was a big hitter, the cool Swede who won with cold precision, with an intimidating aura that felt like it gave her a two-shot lead before she reached the first tee.

She won 72 LPGA titles, more than anyone not named Kathy Whitworth (88) and Mickey Wright (82). She won 10 majors, more than everyone but Patty Berg (15) and Wright (13). She won with a sledgehammer.

Inkster, 57, won as much with grit as she did talent. She won 31 LPGA titles, seven majors.

While Sorenstam’s record towered over most anyone she stared down, there was no staring down Inkster.

“Juli is one of the few people that, probably, can show up Annika, and has shown her up on the golf course,” Cockerill said. “I think Annika really looks up to and admires Juli and respects her, and she’s, perhaps, one of the few people that could intimidate Annika.”

Sorenstam and Inkster played against each other in six Solheim Cups.

Inkster’s American teams won four of them.

Inkster was 2-0 vs. Sorenstam in those matches. She routed Annika 5 and 4 in the leadoff singles match in Scotland in 2000. She teamed with Beth Daniel to take down Sorenstam and Carin Koch, 1 up, in fourballs in 2003. That was the first time the Solheim Cup was played in Sweden, Sorenstam’s homeland.

Memorably, Inkster also denied Sorenstam a chance to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes in 2002. Sorenstam took a two-shot lead into the final round, but Inkster put up a 66 on her and beat her by two shots.

It may be history, as they say, but history keeps score.

Sorenstam and Inkster are both champions, but they took such different paths to their trophies. It makes for a compelling back story in how they’ll shape a path to the trophy that is awaiting at this week’s end, the Solheim Cup.

The captain’s matchup adds to the heightening drama in these matches.

“The Solheim Cup’s intensity level has been increasing, and the rivalry has been getting bigger and more intense as the years have been going along,” said Golf Channel’s Karen Stupples, a two-time Solheim Cup player from England. “It’s the little things that happen during the course of the matches that forms big rivalries, and that makes it really interesting for the fans and spectators watching it on TV.”

Sorenstam and Inkster’s matchup makes it more compelling.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.