U.S., Europe vying for underdog role at Solheim Cup

By Randall MellJune 1, 2015, 6:44 pm

The Americans have declared themselves the underdog with the Solheim Cup only a few months away.

With the Europeans winning the last two, nobody seems to be arguing.

But maybe somebody should.

Anna Nordqvist’s victory Sunday at the ShopRite Classic raises the question about who really ought to be favored with the Americans and Euros jockeying to make the teams that go to Germany in September. Nordqvist ended a 14-month winless drought for Europeans in LPGA events. In fact, the Swede is the only Euro to win an LPGA event since Suzann Pettersen won late in the 2013 season.

If you look at the Rolex world rankings, LPGA player records and major championship performances, there’s no way Europe should be favored to beat the Americans. In fact, the Americans ought to be lopsided favorites.

Going into last weekend’s LPGA event, there were five Americans among the top 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. There was one European.

Americans Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Cristie Kerr, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie were all inside the top 11. Suzann Pettersen was the only European.

Over the last 14 months, Americans have won 13 LPGA titles, the Euros just one.

If you’re thinking the Rolex rankings might be weighted too heavily against the Ladies European Tour, look at major championship performances. The records just as definitively favor the Americans.

Over the last 23 major championships played, Americans have won eight, the Euros just one.

It might seem a silly matter, debating who ought to be designated the underdog, but it’s a big deal how teams crave the label going to these international team events. Apparently, there’s power in the underdog mentality. The same thing happens going to the Ryder Cup. Everybody wants to be the underdog.

You can’t blame American captain Juli Inkster for seizing on the designation.

“We are definitely coming in as the underdogs,” Inkster said earlier this spring. “We’ve lost the last two, and we’re playing on their home soil.”

Spoken like that, it makes sense. It’s a smart tactical move on Inkster’s part. It shifts the pressure on to the Europeans.

European captain Carin Koch knew exactly what Inkster was doing.

“In my eyes, it’s Team USA that’s under pressure,” Koch said.

The Euros rocked the Americans in a record rout in the last Solheim Cup in Colorado. It marked the first time since the biennial competition began in 1990 that the Euros won on American soil. It has fueled this feeling the Euros are the team to beat, but if Americans really analyze it, they ought to be insulted in how this picture looks from a long view.

If Americans are really the underdogs, what’s the designation mean? It means the Americans have massively better records as individuals, but the betting public thinks they can’t play together. They think they’re a lousy team. That’s what it means.

Maybe there’s motivation in that. Maybe there’s a chip-on-the-shoulder, us-against-the-world mentality in that.

Bookmakers don’t look like they’re going to fall for it, though.

While Solheim Cup odds haven’t gone up at most betting houses yet, the few bookmakers who are posting odds are making the Americans the favorites. William Hill has the Americans as 4/6 favorites, BetFred has them as 8/11 favorites and Paddy Power as 8/13 favorites.

“We want to win three in a row,” Koch said. “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. 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.”

Apparently, they’ll be having fun with the advantage of being an underdog despite being the home team and having won the last two Solheim Cups.

It all makes you wonder what being an underdog really means.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.