Poor putting keeps cups out of U.S. hands

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2013, 4:47 pm

Like most of the Lower 48 who was tuned in, Dave Stockton Sr. spent the better part of Sunday afternoon barking at a flat screen, watching as putt after American putt trundled short and low at the Solheim Cup.

“I wasn’t happy,” said Stockton, who – in full disclosure – was more than an interested bystander last week.

Stockton, who has become the game’s go-to putting guru, has worked with players from both the U.S. and European Solheim Cup teams. Objectively, the two-time major champion was perched squarely on the transatlantic fence.

But that didn’t make the proceedings any easier to watch.

“I felt for the U.S. team,” he sighed.

Nor does it make Monday morning quarterbacking any easier. Having worked with the likes of Lexi Thompson, Morgan Pressel and Suzann Pettersen, he knows better than most what each player is capable of. Yet throughout the week at the Low Side Cup, he struggled to understand the American side’s inability to hole crucial putts when it mattered.

Late Saturday afternoon at Colorado Golf Club, the U.S. team’s shortcomings could be perfectly summed up by a late exchange between Thompson and European star-in-the-making Charley Hull.

From 5 feet, Thompson missed her birdie attempt on the 17th hole and Hull answered with a 4-footer for birdie to complete the European’s stunning 4-0 sweep of the afternoon fourball session.

Similar scenes played out all week, almost always in Europe’s favor, and even Stockton – who captained the U.S. team to victory at the 1991 Ryder Cup – struggled for answers.

“Why did the Europeans putt better? I’m not sure,” Stockton admitted. “They certainly handled the slopes (of Colorado GC’s dramatically pitched putting surfaces) better. I’ve been there. I know how frustrating it is to get beat.”

Anecdotally, the Europeans seemed to grasp the severity of the hard and fast greens better than the home team, which may have been the byproduct of extra time spent earlier in the week learning the nuances of the putting surfaces.

“As soon as we got here we obviously realized that they were superfast and probably some of the fastest greens we have ever played on,” European captain Liselotte Neumann said. “Really you have to read the speed into the putts. So a lot of times after our practice rounds a lot of the girls actually went out on the golf course instead of just standing on putting green, they went out on the course, so they get to really get a feel of the undulations.”

As a result, Stockton watched an American side that putted defensively for much of the week and failed to adjust even after falling behind on Day 1.

In retrospect, it’s why Pettersen seemed uniquely equipped to handle the slopes, to say nothing of the situation.

“She is so good at visualizing what the ball is going to do,” Stockton said of Pettersen. “She has great touch and the perfect demeanor for those types of greens.”

For the Americans, it was a familiar refrain.

“It was just making the key putts at the key moments. And they seemed to do that better than we did. It all comes down to that,” Paula Creamer said.

“We just didn't make the putts. I saw more putts go over the hole on our side,” U.S. captain Meg Mallon added.

Flash back 11 months, to Medinah and a similarly flummoxed U.S. side.

“A few putts they made, a few putts we missed, and it would have been a huge difference,” said U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III following America’s Sunday meltdown at last year’s matches.

Europe and GB&I now own every major match with the United States – Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup – and you don’t need to have Stockton’s short-game sensibilities to see why the red, white and blew is on the wrong side of the pendulum swing at the moment.

“If we would have made any putts it would  have been a different story,” Stockton said.

Perhaps, but that still doesn’t explain why the game’s best putters go cold when playing for cup and country. It was easy, for example, to pick apart Thompson’s putting performance last week. Yet she has never been considered the women’s version of Ben Crenshaw.

But it’s not as though Pressel (No. 9 on the LPGA in putting average) or Stacy Lewis (20th) were charging in winners. Combined, America’s high-power duo went 2-5-1.

And this is hardly an LPGA problem. Brandt Snedeker went 1-2-1 in his first Ryder Cup last September, this from a player who ranked first on the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting heading into the matches and was fresh off his FedEx Cup clinching victory at East Lake.

American captains have taken to a unique game of cat-and-mouse in recent years in an attempt to keep their side loose – pair them with players they are comfortable with, fill team rooms with Ping-Pong tables, keep the extracurricular dinners and galas to a minimum.

Maybe American captains (excluding Fred Couples who has been immune to the putting problems and pressure in his two turns as Presidents Cup captain) need a new approach – practice putting greens in the team room and Stockton’s number on speed dial would be a good start.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.