Solheim Cup scouting trip

By Tom AbbottJune 21, 2011, 3:19 pm

This week marks the beginning of an extremely important run in women’s golf. It’s a period which begins with the Wegmans LPGA Championship on Thursday, and ignoring a couple of off weeks here and there, ends with a first foray to Ireland for the Solheim Cup in late September.

Last month I had the opportunity to visit the Emerald Isle and stop off at Killeen Castle, the venue for the 12th playing of the biennial matches, to find out what’s in store when the players arrive at the 600-acre estate in County Meath.

The Jack Nicklaus signature design golf course takes up a great deal of the vast property. At no time do you ever feel Jack was scratching his head, trying to work out how to fit this huge golf course, which stretches to 7,700 yards from the back tees, into this piece of Irish countryside. There will be plenty of room for spectators, yet the first and second holes along with the closing three are conveniently located in close proximity to each other and the clubhouse.

The property as it is seen today was developed in 2005 with the golf course only completed in 2008. The history of Killeen, however, dates back to 1181. The castle itself is currently undergoing a complete renovation; the current owners have plans to see it as the center piece of a luxury hotel. The castle sits rather hauntingly behind the 18th green, but does not serve as the golf clubhouse. Instead, the course boasts a very modern Euro chic structure adjacent to the first tee. Architecturally, the clubhouse and the castle are polar opposites, but somehow it all seems to work. In addition to the clubhouse, the course has its own Dave Pelz Scoring Game School with dedicated driving range. The plan, as of my visit in late May, is to make the Pelz academy and driving range the U.S. team headquarters, giving them plenty of space and their own practice facilities. The Europeans will use both the men’s and women’s locker-rooms as their team room and the members driving range for their practice. I counted four practice putting greens, so in all likelihood the teams will only see each other on the golf course. 

The course has an American feel. If not for the near 1000-year-old castle popping up in the distance and the freezing cold wind, I would not have felt like I was playing golf in Ireland on my visit. Will that be an advantage to the U.S. side? Not really, in my opinion. Most players on the European side play their golf on the LPGA anyway, and how often these days do the pros actually play on traditional UK and Irish golf courses? Hardly ever. The greens, though, will suit the U.S.-based players; they are some of the finest putting surfaces I have ever encountered in Europe. Bent grass greens built to U.S. Golf Association standards, they are high quality modern complexes, which could be lightning fast, but their speed will be determined by European captain Alison Nicholas who will keep the pace at bay.

Just seven weeks prior to the Solheim, the Ladies Irish Open will be played at Killeen and many American players will take the opportunity to see the course. Stacy Lewis told Golf Channel last week that she’s committed to playing. Although this is great for the promotion of the venue and the matches, it creates a logistical nightmare for course superintendent Mark Collins, who will have his work cut out between the two events to get the course back to tournament shape. He told me the main issues center around the tees, fairways and driving range, all of which will be battered by tournament play and will then need to look pristine less than two months later. 

For those dedicated fans traveling to the Solheim to support the American team, the venue really couldn’t be much easier. Flights to Dublin are abundant with five carriers provided direct service from seven cities in the United States. When you arrive, the road system around Dublin is superb and there’s a modern toll road which will take you to the course. The only snag could come from the narrow lane which links the main road to the golf course.

In the land of a thousand welcomes, players, officials and spectators will have a hospitable time. If the sun shines then, as they say over there, it’ll be grand.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“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, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. 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.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.