Getting late early for Europeans at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 30, 2012, 12:15 am

MEDINAH, Ill. – If Paul Azinger famously “cracked the code” at the 2008 Ryder Cup, Jose Maria Olazabal’s crew simply seems cracked, adrift in an abyss of missed putts and rapidly waning opportunities.

Through 16 of 28 matches the winners of six of the last eight biennial pond scrums fell behind on Day 1, lost ground in Saturday’s foursome session and did nothing to help their chances in the afternoon matinee, splitting fourball play to fade into a 10-6 chasm that few this side of the Atlantic Ocean figure they can claw out.

Obituaries before the doctor calls it are always risky, but as New York Yankee great Yogi Berra famously opined, it’s getting late early.

“That gives us a chance. It’s been done before,” captain Olazabal said. “Things have not been going our way, especially on the greens, and why couldn’t things go our way tomorrow?”

It’s not impossible. The largest comeback in Ryder Cup history was from 10-6 in 1999 at Brookline, but that was a home game with captain Ben Crenshaw famously prognosticating “something special.” The Europeans have neither the friendly confines nor “Gentle Ben” to wag his finger for them on Sunday at Medinah.

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Just once in the modern era has an American team gone into Sunday singles with a lead and not won the cup (1995), and as the U.S. flags piled up on a leaderboard already heavy with red, white and blue that reality hung heavy on the Continent’s best and brightest.

Critical analysis is best served after the main course, but in this the European woes can be identified regardless of Sunday’s outcome. It was all there etched into Paul Lawrie’s face as his 3-footer for birdie at No. 10 raced past the hole. Slump-shouldered and hangdog, the Scot held his putter over his head and grimaced – a metaphorical “tap out” following one too many misses.

“This is a putting contest, always is,” figured former European Tour player and short-game guru Mark Roe earlier this week. Through two days the elephant in the Continent’s team room is when did Europe start putting like the United States? Well, previous U.S. teams, not this bunch of flat-stick wielding flat bellies.

With the exception of Ian Poulter, gone are the magicians who charged in putts from Celtic Manor to The K Club. Graeme McDowell, the hero of the 2010 Ryder Cup and considered one of the game’s best clutch putters, opened his morning foursome match on Saturday with a missed 10-footer for birdie at the first and from 7 feet at the second. Fifteen holes later his playing partner Rory McIlroy failed to convert a birdie attempt from 10 feet. Bookend blows, and things didn’t get any better for the Ulstermen or the Europeans.

“Our boys are not making the putts,” Olazabal said. “It’s true that, you know, some of them haven’t performed to their expectations.”

As a result Europe’s three power twosomes – McDowell and McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, and Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia – were a combined 4-3-0 this week.

For the Europeans, that fall chill in the Chicagoland air was a vivid reminder that this was not the halcyon days of the famed “Spanish Armada” of Olazabal and the late Seve Ballesteros. Combined, the Spaniards went 8-1-2 in team play, including a perfect mark in 1989, and solidified Europe’s dominance in the matches.

It’s not as though Ballesteros and Ollie won every match they played, it just seemed like they did and that was enough to give a decade of American captains insomnia.

McDowell and McIlroy, widely considered the side’s toughest draw, were 1-2-0 together and Ollie is sure to be pencil whipped by arm-chair quarterbacks for his benching of Poulter following a Day 1 foursome victory with Rose.

From outside the team room, the Europeans seem to have lost that familiarity, that fire that has turned this grudge match into a one-sided affair of late, which, all things considered, may be a sign of the times.

As more Europeans migrate full time to the PGA Tour and life in America so goes the Continent’s esprit de corps. Half of the European team lives at least part-time in the U.S., if not exclusively in Florida, and plays a bare-bones European Tour schedule.

The days of players traveling en masse to far-flung European Tour destinations is a thing of the past, casualties of the Tour’s FedEx Cup and warmer climes, and with it at least a piece of the fabric that made the Europeans such a formidable foe.

Life remains in the European side, both at Medinah and in the matches overall, but for this edition the buzzards are circling. Late Saturday afternoon across a cloudless horizon, a skywriter etched a wishful message, “Down but not out. Go Europe.”

Perhaps, but you didn’t need Berra around to know that it’s getting late early for Ollie & Co.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

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A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Growing family

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Squashed beef with Paddy

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Victory at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm