U.S. hopes to change conversation with Solheim rally

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2015, 7:52 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – The Americans better not go home without the Solheim Cup again.

They won’t like what’s waiting for them.

No U.S. Solheim Cup team has lost three consecutive times, and so you can be sure any postmortem won’t be pretty.

The Solheim Cup used to be a celebration of everything that’s right with American women’s golf, but another loss turns that dynamic on its head. All of a sudden it’s a shining example of what’s wrong. All of a sudden it’s perceived as a window into the heart and soul of the top American women in the game, or the lack thereof.

That’s why what happens Sunday is so magnified now.

And that’s why the American rally in Saturday afternoon fourballs was so important in dramatically tilting how this Solheim Cup may be remembered.

“We really have an opportunity to flip this thing in our favor,” Stacy Lewis said.

Lewis was talking about Sunday morning and the resumption of the suspended fourballs and how the Americans can flip momentum their way going into singles, but she could have been talking about the bigger picture, the way American women’s golf is viewed.

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Falling behind 8-4 after Saturday morning foursomes, the Americans looked like they might be on their way to being embarrassed in another rout, but they rallied hard Saturday afternoon. The American duo of Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson led the way, beating the tough Spaniard tandem of Carlota Ciganda and Azahara Munoz, 3 and 2.

Kerr and Thompson are 2-0-1 in this competition. They’re 4-0-1 as partners dating back to last year’s International Crown, where they were first paired. Lewis, the highest ranked American player, was a large part of Saturday’s rebound, too. She found her form when the Americans most needed it, finding a spark with a new partner, Gerina Piller, who was also a vital component in Saturday’s rally.

The Americans are building momentum, but with the fourballs suspended due to darkness, so much still hangs in the balance in Sunday morning’s resumption of play.

The Americans closed out a victory in one of the fourball matches, but there are three remaining matches, and they’re all tight, with three holes or less to play in each of them. The Americans could end up taking all three for a sweep of the fourballs to pull to an 8-8 tie going into singles. Or they could lose them all and limp into singles down 11-5.

“Tomorrow is obviously really important,” Lewis said. “Going into singles, you don't want to be in our current deficit. We've got to get out there and be aggressive, just like we've been playing today and all week. I think our focus will be there in the morning.”

You could argue there was a time we didn’t make enough of what the Solheim Cup stage means to the women’s game. Now you can argue we make too much.

You want your fans to care intensely about a competition? This is what comes with it. Everything becomes magnified. There will be overreactions to winning, just as surely as there will be overreactions to losing.

We saw the Solheim Cup’s power to magnify evident before the first shot was struck this week. We saw it in two important voices in the sport taking American women to task.

Jaime Diaz at Golf Digest used the eve of the Solheim Cup to evaluate what’s wrong with the American women’s game in the wake of South Korea’s emergence as a force more than a decade ago.

“Among U.S. players – perhaps in self-defense – there’s an increasing drift toward style over substance,” Diaz wrote. “Instagram accounts, good looks and general buzz seem as important as performance, if not more so ...

“The U.S. pattern of becoming a star without commensurate results breeds entitlement and competitive softness. Inevitably, American women are getting outplayed by golfers who have placed substance over style, and simply want it more.”


At ESPNW, Dottie Pepper, the TV analyst and former LPGA star, was equally heavy handed in a story she wrote questioning the way the best American players have approached the Solheim Cup in this era. She criticized “key players” for failing to appreciate the special honor and privilege that is integral to the event. She said she observed an “attitude of inconvenience and entitlement” firsthand as an assistant captain two years ago.

“It's not about face paint and time set aside for team manicures, or whose stilettos cost more and are a quarter-inch higher, or hair stylists and makeup artists,” Pepper wrote. “It's not about the stuff, it's about the substance. It's not about the bling, it's about being there for whatever your captain asks. It is most definitely not about entitlement, but it's about privilege, the privilege of a rare opportunity to do something extraordinarily special – to represent yourself, your family, your fans and your country.”

Double ouch.

Maybe U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster was right. Maybe the Americans should have been the underdogs.

But European captain Carin Koch was right, too. All the pressure coming here was on the Americans because of how three consecutive losses will appear to validate the criticisms of them.

The American women haven’t been able to beat the South Koreans in their sport’s biggest events, and now they can’t even beat the Europeans?

Inkster may well be remembered for how she’s changing things, though. This Solheim Cup might be transformative because of her. Inkster is old school, and it just might be rubbing off on this team. You see it in the simple things, like the way they shake hands after winning holes. Lewis says this American team is more grown up. Kerr says it’s different.

Winning Sunday isn’t necessarily required to validate those things, but nothing will do so more effectively. Rightly or wrongly, losing is sure to be perceived as validation of the criticisms.

There’s no stronger motivation for an athlete than trying to prove critics and doubters wrong. That ought to make this American team one of the most motivated ever.

Winnning doesn’t mean the criticism of this generation of American women is wrong, and losing doesn’t mean it’s right.

Winning, though, has a powerful way of changing the conversation, changing the focus losing will bring.

If the Americans bring the cup home, they’ll bring a new narrative with them.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.