Inkster selects Creamer, Lang with captain's picks

By Randall MellAugust 24, 2015, 10:56 pm

Paula Creamer’s heart trumps her current form.

That’s why Creamer joined Brittany Lang as the two captain’s picks named Monday to the U.S. Solheim Cup team that will meet the Europeans next month in Germany.

U.S. Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster filled out her 12-woman roster in a Golf Channel telecast, naming Creamer to her sixth consecutive team despite Creamer’s struggles this year. Inkster named Lang to her fourth team.

“These are the two players that best fit what we’re trying to do,” Inkster told before going on the air Monday night.

Creamer, 29, created some angst Friday, missing the cut at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open with team qualifying concluding, assuring that for the first time in her career she wouldn’t gain one of the 10 automatic roster spots. The fact that Creamer struggled to an 81, ensuring her third consecutive missed cut, caused much handwringing, but Inkster saw what others weren’t seeing. She saw what Creamer’s heart for the Solheim Cup means.

On Saturday near Vancouver Golf Club, site of the Canadian Women’s Open, Inkster and Creamer met for a heart-to-heart talk at “The Keg,” a restaurant bar in the area. They talked over a glass of wine, maybe two, Inkster said. For 90 minutes, they talked about golf, the Solheim Cup and life.

Inkster said she left feeling confident Creamer was the right choice to join Lang.

“I wanted to know where she was at mentally and physically,” Inkster said. “I went with my gut. I really believe in her. The team believes in her. I think she’s earned the right to prove herself, and I wanted to give her a shot to do that.”

Inkster heard everything she wanted to hear from Creamer.

“I feel like she’s not as lost as everyone thinks she is,” Inkster said. “She has a lot of confidence in herself, and that’s what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear she still believes in herself. That was pretty much the deciding factor. There were no tears. No woe is me. She was very outspoken and very honest with me, and I felt like this could really turn her game around.”

Inkster knows better than anyone what Creamer means to the Solheim Cup. She teamed with Creamer six times as Solheim Cup partners early in Creamer’s career, going 3-2-1. Creamer is 12-6-5 in her five Solheim Cup appearances.

Inkster said separating her friendship from her captain’s role wasn’t difficult.

“Paula really made it easy on me,” Inkster said. “She knew she would be a controversial pick. She said, `You do what you have to do. It’s not going to hurt our friendship at all.’

“I don’t have Paula on the team because she’s a good friend of mine. I have Paula on the team because I think she will help the team.”

Creamer has struggled much of the last two seasons to reach the high standard she set in her first nine LPGA seasons. She won her 10th tour title early last year, claiming the HSBC Women’s Champions, but finished the year 22nd on the LPGA money list, the lowest finish of her career. Though she has shown flashes of regaining her best form this season, with three top-10 finishes, she’s 36th on the money list today.

Inkster sees potential parallels with Greg Norman picking Adam Scott on his International squad at the 2009 Presidents Cup. Scott was slumping back then, but he responded to Norman’s confidence in him. It proved a spark to Scott’s resurgence. Inkster can see the same thing happening with Creamer.

Creamer felt good about her conversation with Inkster, too.

“Juli obviously wanted to ask me where I was mentally, and how I was doing,” Creamer said. “I believe in myself. I told her I know you can count on me. It was just a very raw conversation. I felt like I told her everything and didn’t hold anything back, and same with her.”

Inkster said Creamer has strong support from players who qualified. That factored into the decision, too.

Inkster passed over Jessica Korda, Christina Kim, Mo Martin and Austin Ernst. Inkster said that was the toughest part of her role.

Lang, 30, is 5-4-2 in her three Solheim Cup appearances. She has had a solid summer, finishing sixth at the Meijer Classic and fifth at the Marathon Classic.

“I’m so thrilled and excited,” Lang said. “I’ve played well recently, and I’m just really honored Juli [and assistant captains] Wendy [Ward] and Pat [Hurst] had confidence in me.”

Eight Americans made the team off the final U.S. points list: Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel, Angela Stanford and Gerina Piller. Two Americans made it off the Rolex world rankings list: Alison Lee and Lizette Salas.

Eleven of the 12 Americans heading to Germany were part of that historic loss in Colorado two years ago, when the Europeans beat the Americans in a record 18-10 rout. It marked the first time the Americans lost on home soil and the first time they lost the cup twice in a row since the matches began in 1990. Europe defeated the Americans 15-13 in Ireland in four years ago.

“I think a lot of girls that were a part of that kind of have a chip,” Lang said. “We have been doing things a little differently. You can’t do things the same way and expect them to change. Juli, Pat and Wendy have a nice plan, nice setup, and are confident in what they’re doing.”

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Watch: Na plays backwards shot 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.

Getty Images

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.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

Getty Images

Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.