'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.”


Solheim Cup: Articles, photos and videos


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.

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''