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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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”