Golfing Greats Gear Up for Cup
One guy has earned the most money. Another has won the most trophies.
It sounds like another stellar group of Americans who will be favored to win, as they have been in team competition for the last 75 years.
The Presidents Cup is different.
It doesn't have the history or hype of the Ryder Cup, only the best collection of golfers in the world. Many of them are on the International team.
'They're the favorites on paper,' Davis Love III said, rare words coming from an American.
Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Masters champion Mike Weir lead an International team that will try to win back the Presidents Cup in its first venture to South Africa.
It's new territory for the fledgling Presidents Cup, which has been played overseas only one other time -- Australia in 1998 -- since it was created in 1994 to give foreign players born outside Europe a chance at team competition.
'It's a terrifically balanced match,' U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. 'It should be a heck of a competition. I think it will be a blast. I just hope it turns out that we win.'
The Americans are coming off a lopsided victory three years ago in Virginia (21 1/2 - 10 1/2), but motivation comes from a couple of fronts.
For starters, the Presidents Cup is all they have left.
The United States lost to Europe in the Ryder Cup last year. Two months ago, the European women whipped the Americans in the Solheim Cup. Unless this U.S. team brings back the trophy, it will be the first time ever the Americans did not hold any of the professional cups.
'As far as I'm concerned, the only two cups that I have an opportunity to make an impact is the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup,' Jim Furyk said. 'I want to keep a hold of the Presidents Cup.'
If the last road game is any indication, it won't be easy.
The International team handed the Americans their worst loss ever in team competition, 20 1/2 - 11 1/2 at Royal Melbourne, with Nicklaus at the helm.
They complained about playing the matches too close to the holidays, about having to travel so far at the end of a long season, about the Presidents Cup not being as meaningful as the tradition-rich, passion-filled Ryder Cup.
'Most of us had not been playing a lot,' Love said. 'We brought friends to caddie for us. We'd never take a new caddie and say, 'Hey, this new Ryder Cup will be fun. Why not come along?' We didn't treat it like the Ryder Cup.
'And the mistake most of us made was we didn't put enough emphasis on the fact Jack Nicklaus was our captain.'
The Americans have already shown commitment in one area: They're going.
When word first leaked that the matches were headed for South Africa, some players said they might stay home.
'I didn't want to go,' Tiger Woods said. 'We had just come back from Australia. We got beat. No one was in a good mood about the Presidents Cup, and that was still two Presidents Cups away at the time.'
For the United States not to send their best might have been a crushing blow to the Presidents Cup.
Els and Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who lobbied for the tournament to go to South Africa, never pressured any of the players. Instead, they quietly challenged the Americans to help generate interest in golf globally, just as Price and Els have done throughout their careers.
'It would have been a sad day for golf if some self-centered person had decided not to go,' Price said.
Nicklaus gathered his potential troops together in late May and gave them the option of staying home.
No one did.
The Links Course at Fancourt, a resort on the Indian Ocean, already is buzzing about what Els believes will be the biggest sporting event of the year in the nation of 41 million. He took his daughter for a visit last month and could feel the excitement building.
'They all wanted to know if Tiger was coming,' Els said. 'As you know, he can make or break an event.'
Els was never too concerned about Woods showing up. They share a common friend in Nelson Mandela, the former South African president expected to be at Fancourt.
Woods visited briefly with Mandela when he was in South Africa in 1998 for the Million Dollar Challenge and said he was the greatest man he has ever met.
'If I decided not to go, I'm sure I would have gotten a phone call from him,' Woods said. 'How can you not do anything for that man?'
Now it's time for Woods to do something for his country.
He is joined by Love, Furyk, David Toms and Kenny Perry, among the top performers on the PGA Tour this year. The Americans have four players who have never played in any cup -- ranging from 24-year-old Charles Howell III to 46-year-old Fred Funk.
And Phil Mickelson remains a question mark. Lefty failed to win this year for the first time since 1999, and he never seriously contended on the back nine at any tournament.
The International team counters with Singh, coming off his first PGA Tour money title; Els, who has won seven times around the world; and Weir, who treats the Presidents Cup almost as seriously as he does the majors.
Retief Goosen, Stuart Appleby and Adam Scott also won PGA Tour events for the International team, which is strong from top to bottom.
'It's got to be closely contested, just like the Ryder Cup,' Price said.
The Ryder Cup has 16 team matches -- alternate shot and better ball -- over two days, and Europe has been known to hide its weaker players. The Presidents Cup requires everyone to play -- six matches Thursday, 10 on Friday, and six matches Saturday before the Sunday singles.
Price believes the two cups already have one thing in common.
'I don't think they want to lose, just like us,' he said, referring to the U.S. team. 'Second place is no good at the Presidents Cup. This would be a wonderful one for us to win.'
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown
There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.
Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.
She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.
It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.
Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.
"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”
Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.
Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.
“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.
“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.
“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”
Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.
He picked up his clubs three times.
That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.
This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.
Not that he was concerned, of course.
Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.
“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”
At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.
“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”
Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.
Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.
“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”
Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.
In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.
That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.
“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.
“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.
Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”
So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.
Despite results, Thomas loves links golf
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.
Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.
Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.
“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”
Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.
He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.
“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.
“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”