Lack of Experience Not All That Bad

By Associated PressSeptember 21, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- Everybody has a theory on what to do with rookies.
Saddled with a half-dozen in his only stint as Europe's Ryder Cup captain in 1997, Seve Ballesteros simply persuaded the one he liked the least to disappear. Nine years later, American captain Tom Lehman is leaning heavily on two of his four from the get-go, sending out J.J. Henry and Brett Wetterich -- though not together -- in Friday's opening session.
'At some point, you're a rookie,' Lehman said Thursday, less than 24 hours from the opening tee shot. 'When I was a rookie, I played the very first match and hit the very first shot at Oak Hill.'
To quiet his jangling nerves, Lehman recalled focusing on something Lanny Wadkins, his captain in 1995, said just before he sent Lehman out: ''I put you here because I know you can do it.''
'And I think,' Lehman added, 'that's why you play the guys you play.'
Henry, though, has a slightly different take on why he and fellow rookies Wetterich, Vaughn Taylor and Zach Johnson might see a lot of playing time.
'Let's be honest,' Henry said recently. 'We've lost four of five. We haven't been setting the world on fire. We might not be household names, but a lack of history might not be all that bad a thing in this case.'
Besides, it's worked out plenty of times before -- for the Europeans, anyway.
Under the current format -- four better-ball and four alternate-shot matches both Friday and Saturday, followed by a dozen singles matches Sunday -- every one of the 12 team members has to play at least once. But because their teams have had fewer bona fide superstars and even fewer overheated egos to ice down, the Europeans haven't been afraid to trot theirs out early and often.
In that same 1995 Ryder Cup where Lehman made his debut, an obscure Irishman named Philip Walton sank the winning putt in the next-to-last singles match Sunday against the much more experienced Jay Haas. In 2002, it was another, slightly less obscure Irishman named Paul McGinley who clinched Europe's win with a 6-footer to halve his match with Jim Furyk.
The only U.S. win in the last five cups, in fact, came at Brookline in 1999, when European captain Mark James ignored the philosophy of his predecessors. He sat three of his seven rookies until the singles matches, then watched the strategy backfire as the Americans steamrolled the trio en route to a 6-0 lead and the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
Ian Woosnam, this year's Euro boss, has only two rookies on the squad, Swedes Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson. Karlsson gets his feet wet in Friday's second match, pairing with World Match Play winner Paul Casey against Henry and Stewart Cink.
Karlsson might feel he has something extra to prove, since the Swede was mysteriously left off the 1999 team by James in favor of Scot Andrew Coltart, even though Karlsson amassed more qualifying points. But that wouldn't make him much different from any of the other rookies.
'So what if we're rookies? So what if it's our first time in the Ryder Cup? It's still just golf,' said Taylor, who, like Wetterich, has never officially competed in match play. 'I've played golf for 20 years. I know I will be nervous, but I don't think we're all suddenly going to forget how to play.'
Not the way Chris Riley did, anyway.
He was a rookie on the 2004 team that suffered the Americans' worst pummeling ever. Riley had to sit until Saturday morning just to get a game, but after pairing with Tiger Woods to win a better-ball match, he begged off playing alternate-shot in the afternoon and captain Hal Sutton reluctantly went along. In a recent book, Jackie Burke, a two-time U.S. captain himself and Sutton's assistant in 2004, recalled how that little bit of momentum Riley and Woods managed to generate was quickly squandered.
'If Chris had told me he had no experience with the foursomes,' Burke wrote, 'I would have told him, 'Most of us have little or no experience with it. But it works like this. He hits it, then you hit. Now get your ass out there.''
Of course, that's easier said than done.
Ballesteros had so little faith in rookie Miguel Angel Martin in 1997 that he convinced his fellow Spaniard that a wrist injury was worse than Martin thought, sent him home with a uniform and a team photo, and replaced him with another countryman, Jose Maria Olazabal.
Because they often play such a pivotal role at the Ryder Cup, advice on how to handle rookies has become something of a cottage industry.
No less an authority than Jack Nicklaus, a two-time Ryder Cup captain, was asked awhile back whether he would let a rookie paired with a veteran at the peak of his game hit the opening drive. He answered by explaining that when he plays with one of his sons in a tournament, he always had them tee off first.
'It's best to know,' Nicklaus said, 'that they have Dad in reserve.'
If only everybody had that option.
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

    According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

    Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

    Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

    And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

    Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.