Captain Koch prepared for more Solheim Cup success

By Jay CoffinSeptember 17, 2015, 4:52 pm

ST. LEON-ROT, Germany – Carin Koch earned a master’s degree in Ryder Cup philosophy last year in Scotland.

The European Solheim Cup captain was a VIP guest of Paul McGinley at Gleneagles and was given behind-the-scenes access to each move the dynamic European Ryder Cup captain made; Every impassioned speech, all team meetings, the reasoning for pairings and lineups, everything that helped deliver Europe a 16 ½ to 11 ½ beat down of the Americans.

“Just learning how he worked with his team and his preparation,” Koch said, “yeah, it's just been good having the help of the past captains like that.”

Said McGinley: “She has been open to learning and asking questions in the past two years from many sources knowing what to filter as it relates to her task as captain. She’s gathered a lot of information and worked very hard, the players know that. It will give them confidence in their leader that she’s prepared.”

Koch has been hesitant to discuss details about everything she learned from that experience but it’s clear McGinley’s help was invaluable. It’s impossible for it not to have been.

Truth is, though, even without McGinley’s guidance, Koch has all the tools necessary to deliver Europe its third consecutive Solheim Cup victory.

Nearly everything Koch has touched in the Solheim Cup has turned to gold. In 2000 at Loch Lomond, she was a captain’s pick and a rookie who fought back from a 3-down deficit in singles against Michele Redman to win the match and clinch the Solheim Cup. The U.S. had won the three previous Solheim Cups and this European victory was a key to keeping the matches historically relevant.

Two years later in Minnesota, Europe lost, but Koch went 4-0-1 and was the sole reason why her team took a 9-7 advantage heading into Sunday singles. The Americans won 8 ½ points in singles to win the cup, but Koch was as dominant as any player has ever been on a losing team.

Koch didn’t play particularly well in 2003 in her native Sweden (1-2-1) but Europe did not need her help and won handily. Again, in 2005, Koch was 2-1-1 in a losing effort.

Granted, Koch was paired with Annika Sorenstam on five occasions during her four appearances and they went 4-1 together, but still, Koch is 10-3-3 in her Solheim Cup career as a player.

On the administrative side, Koch was an assistant captain to her Swedish role model Liselotte Neumann two years ago outside Denver when Europe delivered the biggest thrashing in Solheim Cup history. It marked the first time that the U.S. lost on home soil.

You get the point. Koch is much more than just a pretty face.


Photos: Carin Koch through the years

“She’s experienced on and off the course in Solheim’s and know what works from both angles,” McGinley said. “She believes in not reinventing the wheel.”

Although the Europeans have won the last two Solheim Cup they still arrive here on home soil as underdogs. Their collective world ranking is much lower than the U.S. and some of their key players from two years ago (Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, in particular) are not playing well.

However, one advantage Koch has is that she can look at her team and see numerous successful pairings from the last two victorious cups. She sent out her two top-ranked players in Friday’s first foursomes match. Suzann Pettersen and Anna Nordqvist are 2-0 together and they’re facing Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer, who has struggled most of the year.

Nearly every European player has said they don’t care who they play with, that they’re happy to play with whomever Koch feels is the best fit. Players usually say that in these team events but you get the feeling that it happens to be true with this European team.

Koch, 44, has long been known as one of the friendliest players on the LPGA and you won’t find one person, no matter which country they’re from, that has a negative word to say about her. She genuinely has a kind soul. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a raging fire in her belly to stomp the Americans into the ground for the third straight time.

It’s no surprise that, so far, Koch has managed every detail to perfection. She surrounded herself with three Swedish assistant captains (Sorenstam, Sophie Gustafson, Maria McBride) who make a formidable team and her captain’s picks (Hedwall, Karine Icher, Caroline Masson, Catriona Matthew) were players who are past Solheim Cup stalwarts and ones she believe will best fit her team strategy.

This is Koch’s team. She’s going to do things her way.

“I think you change as you go along a little bit with the people that are around you,” Koch said. “But I think my plan from the start, it’s my captaincy, I want to be myself and do what I can for the team and that hasn’t really changed.”

Koch downplays her role as a captain saying her top priority is “to create that atmosphere in the team room that we’ve always had and just to have fun together and make sure they focus on the job that needs to be done.”

They’ll be focused, they’ll have fun, they’ll be united and, win or lose, they’ll play well for their captain.

“She's a likeable, charismatic, nice person who people believe and will play for,” McGinley said.

Sounds familiar.

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

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.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

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.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

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 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.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“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.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

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.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“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.”